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Confident Putin keeps all options open on Ukraine

Thursday, 17 April 2014 - 9:29pm IST | Agency: PTI

President Vladimir Putin today exuded self-confidence as he fielded four hours of questions in his traditional phone-in marathon, keeping open Russia's diplomatic and military options on the Ukraine crisis.

Putin basked in the glory of Russia's lightning takeover of Crimea from Ukraine last month, sitting impassively as dozens of locals in the Crimean port of Sevastopol chanted "Thank you!" in a live link-up.

He said he had no fears of Western sanctions against Russia over the crisis, even against him personally, only expressing irritation that the wife of one of his associates, billionaire Gennady Timchenko, had her credit cards blocked.

As usual, Putin answered questions on every aspect of life ranging from whether he intended to remarry to the price of cabbages to whether he thought US President Barack Obama would save him from drowning.

He even took a question on surveillance from US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden who Russia granted asylum.

But the world, and this time Russia, were only really interested in one question -- did Putin intend to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine?

Fears of a major conflict have grown in recent days after Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine's eastern border and pro-Russian separatists seized official buildings across east Ukraine.

Putin dismissed as "nonsense" suggestions that Russian special forces were already stirring trouble in east Ukraine but left the door firmly open to sending the army across the border to protect the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine.

Putin said he "very much" hoped he would not have to use authorisation granted to him on March 1 by the Russian upper house to send troops into Ukrainian territory.

At the same time, he made clear the Kremlin was not rejecting dialogue, saying today's talks between top diplomats in Geneva were "extremely important" and negotiations were the best way out of the crisis.
Maria Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, said that against the background of Russia's vitriolic and bellicose state propaganda on the Ukraine crisis, Putin adopted a "peaceful and human tone".

"He showed self-confidence and magnanimity... and talked about the necessity of dialogue and that we (Russians and Ukrainians) need each other."

Yet Putin made clear that he was in no mood to give way on the situation in east Ukraine, saying Moscow needed guarantees that the rights of Russian-speakers would be protected.

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