Moscow: Russia may invade south-east Ukraine to protect the local population, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
Speaking live at his annual call-in show in a Moscow television studio, Mr Putin implied he reserved the right to move Russian troops into the neighbouring country on behalf of pro-Russian residents.
“We know quite well that we must do our best to protect their rights and help them independently decide their fate, and we will struggle for that,” he said. “I remind you that the Federation Council of Russia [the upper house of parliament] empowered the president to use the armed forces in Ukraine.”
But Mr Putin added he hoped he would not have to resort to that.
Mr Putin’s threat suggests that Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine is a looming reality, Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasyov said.
“Today, Putin in fact set up an ultimatum for Kiev to either allow a wide federalisation of Ukraine with vast powers for eastern regions – allowing Moscow to regain its political and economic control over them without formally annexing them – or to face a full-scale armed invasion resulting from which Moscow will establish its military control over at least the south-east of Ukraine,” Mr Karasyov, director of the Kiev-based Institute for Global Strategies, said. “He made his terms quite clear today.”
Mr Putin also reiterated his position that the south-east regions of Ukraine for centuries were Russian territories called Novorossiya or New Russia, and it was the Bolshevik leadership in the early 20th century that handed those regions over to the newly formed Soviet Ukraine.
Mr Putin lashed out at the lack of democracy and attacks on opposition candidates in the course of the current presidential campaign in Ukraine and refused to recognise the legitimacy of the interim government in Kiev.
“We consider the current Ukraine authorities illegitimate as they have no national mandate to run the country.”
Full article: Putin says Russia may invade Ukraine to protect locals (The Age)