CREDIT: AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
After days of silence on the brewing situation in Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin has finally spoken out on what his government is referring to as the “chaos” occurring next door. Sitting slouched in a chair before a room full of reporters, Putin took on a set of mostly friendly questions about why he deployed troops to “stabilize” eastern Ukraine for Russian speakers, how the West was clearly at fault for the change in government in Kyiv, and whether former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych could stage a comeback. Here are some of Putin’s strangest claims, which prove that the Russian leader exists in a world all his own:
The new Ukrainian leadership is filled with anti-Semites and reactionary nationalists.
“What is our biggest concern? We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.”
“If you allow people to act as they wish, it will lead to chaos….You remember how the units of Ernst Röhm acted at that time, when Hitler rose to power. Later, these units were liquidated. But they played an important role in the rise of Hitler. There could be some very unexpected variations.”
Putin’s government has sought to blame the events in Kyiv on anyone except the Yanukovych government, called the new interim government “fascist thugs” and argued that they threaten Russians in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power pushed back on the Russian narrative yesterday, saying, “It is … a fact that independent journalists continue to report that there is no evidence of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities.” Power also insisted that there is “no evidence, for example, that churches in Eastern Ukraine are being or will be attacked; the allegation is without basis. There is no evidence that ethnic Russians are in danger.”
But Putin persisted in demagoguing the interim Ukrainian government. “The current Acting President is definitely not legitimate. There is only one legitimate President, from a legal standpoint,” Putin said. He added that he will not recognize the presidential elections currently scheduled for May 25 in Ukraine — unless, of course, the current “atmosphere of terror” has been resolved.
Russian forces are not stationed in Crimea.
“Why don’t you take a look at the post-Soviet states. There are many uniforms there that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform. [...] Those were local self-defence units.”
Those armed gunmen who have been captured by hundreds of journalists patrolling the Crimea and demanding that Ukrainian forces stand down and turn over their weapons? According to Putin, they’re extremely well-armed self-defense units. “So far, there is no need for it, but the possibility remains,” Putin said of deploying actual Russian forces into Ukraine. “What can serve as a reason to use the Armed Forces? Such a measure would certainly be the very last resort.”
Putin added that not a single shot has been fired between Russian forces stationed in Crimea and Ukrainian soldiers — even though video has emerged of Russian soldiers firing “warning shots” at their Ukrainian counterparts. According to Putin “the tension in Crimea that was linked to the possibility of using our Armed Forces simply died down and there was no need to use them.”
Russia stands at the ready if need be, he continued, to protect the peoples of eastern Ukraine, a large number of whom are native Russian speakers. “[I]f the people ask us for help, while we already have the official request from the legitimate President, we retain the to use all available means to protect those people,” Putin said. “We believe this would be absolutely legitimate. This is our last resort.”
The U.S. is to blame for Russia’s economic instability.
“As you may know, the stock market was jumpy even before the situation in Ukraine deteriorated. This is primarily linked to the policy of the US Federal Reserve, whose recent decisions enhanced the attractiveness of investing in the US economy and investors began moving their funds from the developing markets to the American market.”
The Russian president insisted that the shocks felt in Russia’s stock market on Monday was the result of the United States’ economic choices, not concern over his decisions related to Crimea. “Money likes quiet, stability and calm,” Putin said. “However, I think this is a tactical, temporary development and a temporary influence.” Following Putin’s press conference, the Russian ruble rebounded, at the cost of spending $12 billion in reserves to shore up the currency.
In fact, everything that is occurring in the Ukraine is because of the United States and the West’s hypocrisy.
“Our partners, especially in the United States, always clearly formulate their own geopolitical and state interests and follow them with persistence,” he said. “Then, using the principle ‘You’re either with us or against us’ they draw the whole world in. And those who do not join in get ‘beaten’ until they do.”
“And this isn’t the first time our Western partners have meddled. I sometimes have the the feeling that over there across the pond, somewhere in America, they’re like workers in a laboratory, conducting experiments on rats without any understand of what they’re doing.”
The former KGB operative also took the opportunity to slam the United States and other NATO countries for taking on a double standard in their condemnation of Russian actions. “Our approach is different,” Putin said. “We proceed from the conviction that we always act legitimately. I have personally always been an advocate of acting in compliance with international law.” The Russian president singled out the recent NATO intervention in Libya as particular source of scorn.
But given his prior stance on Syria — that the “use of force against a sovereign nation is only possible as self-defense … and on approval of the U.N. Security Council” — it’s difficult to grant Putin much moral weight in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Putin also dismissed the possibility of sanctions from the U.S. and its allies, noting the possibility that such embargoes would hurt the countries that impose them. “I believe that in the modern world, when everything is so interconnected and everyone depends on everyone else, you can cause pain to each other, but this will be mutual damage and we need to consider that,” he said.