Putin says Ukraine asked for assistance

   < < Go Back
from The Washington Post,

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, left, winks at Russia's Vladimir Putin as they agree to a bailout deal. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a vigorous defense of his country’s intervention in Ukraine, saying Tuesday that the pro-Russian former government in Kiev was illegally overthrown and that the man he regards as Ukraine’s legitimate president asked him for military help.

But he asserted that the troops wearing unmarked uniforms in Ukraine’s Crimea region are members of local self-defense groups — not Russian forces, as observers on the scene have said.

In his first public comments about the crisis since President Viktor Yanukovych was deposed Feb. 22, Putin described Ukraine as lawless and suggested that Ukrainians appeared unable to run their own country. He said masked militants were “roaming the streets of Kiev” — even though the Ukrainian capital has remained calm in recent days.

Putin said that if he decides to send in the Russian military, he would have legal grounds to do so. Russia has displayed a letter from the ousted president asking for military help in suppressing the revolt. The current government is illegitimate, Russia contends, because Yanukovych was not properly removed from power in a formal impeachment.

“What is our biggest concern?” Putin asked. “We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.”

“We understand what worries the citizens of Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian, and the Russian-­speaking population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine,” he said. “It is this uncontrolled crime that worries them. Therefore, if we see such uncontrolled crime spreading to the eastern regions of the country, and if the people ask us for help, while we already have the official request from the legitimate president, we retain the right to use all available means to protect those people. We believe this would be absolutely legitimate.”

More From The Washington Post: