by Stephen Lendman
He gave a wide-ranging interview. It's the first extensive one he's given. He did so forthrightly. He did it responsibly. He covered important ground.
Ukraine is the most serious geopolitical crisis since WW II. Kiev neo-Nazis usurped power. They reckless. They're dangerous. Putin understands well.
He knows Washington and EU partners back them. East/West tensions head toward exceeding the worst of Cold War years.
Putin met with media representatives. He suggested a format. "Let's have a conversation, rather than an interview," he said.
He spoke forthrightly. He tried addressing as many vital issues as possible. He assessed what's happening in Kiev and Ukraine overall.
There's only "one," major issue, he stressed. What happened "was an anti-constitutional takeover, an armed seizure of power."
"Does anyone question this? Nobody does." An unanswered question remains, he added. "(W)hy was this done?" He knows full well. He posed the question largely rhetorically. He threw it out for open discussion.
He stressed the February 21 agreement. Negotiations agreed on terms.
Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian Human Rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski were involved.
Ukraine's then ruling Party of Regions called on "everyone involved in the confrontation to lay down their arms."
"This deed will be your greatest contribution to Ukraine's future," it said. "We should all consolidate around the common goal of restoring peaceful life on our soil."
"We should stop this fratricidal war for the sake of peace, for the sake of justice and for the sake of Ukraine's future."
Ukraine's legitimate parliament passed a resolution near unanimously. It condemned the use of force against protesters.
It prohibited Ukrainian Security Council counterterrorism. Yanukovych expressed willingness to hold early presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.
He was amenable to constitutional change before summer. He was willing to form a national unity government in days.
His best efforts didn't matter. He was toppled straightaway. Putschists acted lawlessly. Washington and EU partners manipulated what happened. They support it.
Putin stands forthrightly opposed. "I want to understand why this was done," he said. Yanukovych capitulated. He agreed to yield power.
Putin told him "he had no chance of being reelected. Everybody agrees on this. Everyone I have been speaking to on the telephone these past few days."
"What was the purpose of all those illegal, unconstitutional actions. Why did they have to create this chaos in the country?"
"Armed and masked militants are still roaming the streets of Kiev. This is a question to which there is no answer."
"Did they wish to humiliate someone and show their power? I think these actions are absolutely foolish."
"The result is the absolute opposite of what they expected, because their actions have significantly destabilized the east and southeast of Ukraine."
Putin addressed how this happened, saying:
"(T)his revolutionary situation has been brewing for a long time, since the first days of Ukraine's independence."
"The ordinary Ukrainian citizen, the ordinary guy suffered during the rule of Nicholas II, during the reign of Kuchma, and Yushchenko, and Yanukovych."
"Nothing or almost nothing has changed for the better. Corruption has reached dimensions that are unheard of here in Russia."
"Accumulation of wealth and social stratification - problems that are also acute in this country - are much worse in Ukraine, radically worse."
"Out there, they are beyond anything we can imagine. Generally, people wanted change, but one should not support illegal change."
"Only constitutional means should be used on the post-Soviet space, where political structures are still very fragile, and economies are still weak."
"Going beyond the constitutional field would always be a cardinal mistake in such a situation."
Putin understands intense Euromaidan sentiment, he said. Ordinary Ukrainians have legitimate grievances.
They want "radical change" for the better. They reject cosmetic papering over. They have no idea what they're in for. Previous articles addressed it.
They'll learn soon enough what's coming. How they'll react remains to be seen.
Maybe more angrily than against Yanukovych. It's their best chance to to prevent things going from bad to much worse.
Why do they want real change, asked Putin? "Because they have grown used to seeing one set of thieves being replaced by another."
"Moreover, the people in the regions do not even participate in forming their own regional governments."
"There was a period in this country when the President appointed regional leaders, but then the local legislative authorities had to approve them, while in Ukraine they are appointed directly."
"We have now moved on to elections, while they are nowhere near this. And they began appointing all sorts of oligarchs and billionaires to govern the eastern regions of the country."
"No wonder the people do not accept this. No wonder they think that as a result of dishonest privatization...people have become rich and now they also have been brought to power."
Billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky was appointed Dnepropretrovsk governor. He's a "unique crook," said Putin.
"He even managed to cheat our oligarch Roman Abramovich two or three years ago."
"Scammed him, as our intellectuals like to say. They signed some deal. Abramovich transferred several billion dollars, while this guy never delivered and pocketed the money."
"And now this crook is appointed Governor of Dnepropetrovsk. No wonder the people are dissatisfied."
"They were dissatisfied and will remain so if those who refer to themselves as the legitimate authorities continue in the same fashion."
"...People should have the right to determine their own future, that of their families and of their region, and to have equal participation in it."
"I would like to stress this: wherever a person lives, whatever part of the country, he or she should have the right to equal participation in determining the future of the country."
"Are the current authorities legitimate? The Parliament is partially, but all the others are not."
"The current acting president is definitely not legitimate. There is only one legitimate president, from a legal standpoint."
"Clearly, he has no power. However, as I have already said, and will repeat: Yanukovych is the only undoubtedly legitimate President."
Under Ukrainian law, he can only be removed three ways, said Putin - death, stepping down or impeachment.
Usurping power by coup d'etats demands universal condemnation. No government should recognize Kiev putschists. They have no legitimacy whatever.
Putin addressed Crimea. "(W)e have decided to organize work in the Russian regions to aid" the Autonomous Republic.
Crimean authorities asked for help. They deserve it. "We will provide it, of course," said Putin.
He's not sure "how much, when or how..." He addressed claims of deploying Russian armed forces.
They're false. None were sent. "So far, there is no need for (them), but the possibility remains" to protect Russian nationals if necessary.
Recent military exercises were unrelated to Ukraine, he said. They were "pre-planned."
They weren't disclosed "because this was a snap inspection of the forces' combat readiness. We planned this a long time ago."
Exercises ended. Putin ordered troops sent home. When would armed forces be used, he asked?
"Such a measure would certainly be the very last resort." Doing so requires a legitimate reason.
Yanukovych asked for help. He wanted "the lives, freedom and health of" Ukrainians protected.
"What is our biggest concern," asked Putin? We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev."
"I am sure you, members of the media, saw how one of the governors was chained and handcuffed to something and they poured water over him, in the cold of winter."
"After that, by the way, he was locked up in a cellar and tortured. What is all this about? Is this democracy? Is this some manifestation of democracy?"
"He was actually only recently appointed to this position, in December, I believe. Even if we accept that they are all corrupt there, he had barely had time to steal anything."
"And do you know what happened when they seized the Party of Regions building? There were no party members there at all at the time."
"Some two-three employees came out, one was an engineer, and he said to the attackers: 'Could you let us go, and let the women out, please. I'm an engineer, I have nothing to do with politics.' "
"He was shot right there in front of the crowd. Another employee was led to a cellar and then they threw Molotov cocktails at him and burned him alive."
"Is this also a manifestation of democracy? When we see this 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."
"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. This is our last resort."
In Crimea so far, there's been no gunshots fired. No casualties, Putin stressed. Compare Crimea to out-of-control Kiev violence.
Compare democracy to neo-Nazi putschists seizing power. Russia hasn't interfered in Ukraine's internal affairs, Putin stressed.
"(W)e firmly believe that all citizens of Ukraine, I repeat, wherever they live, should be given the same equal right to participate in the life of their country and in determining its future."
"We are often told our actions are illegitimate," he added. No one explains how responsibly.
Contrast Russia to America's lawless aggression. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria are Exhibits A, B, C and D.
What kind of policy demands "(y)ou're either with us or against us?" What kind of government ravages one country after another? What kind doing this calls itself a beacon of democracy?
What kind bullies nations? What kind intimidates them? What kind threatens them irresponsibly?
What kind brutalizes them into submission? What kind is responsible for mass killing, destruction and unspeakable human misery?
"Our approach is different," said Putin. Barrel-of-a-gun diplomacy is verboten.
"We proceed from the conviction that we always act legitimately. I have personally always been an advocate of acting in compliance with international law."
"I would like to stress yet again that if we do make the decision, if I do decide to use the Armed Forces, this will be a legitimate decision in full compliance with both general norms of international law, since we have the appeal of the legitimate President, and with our commitments, which in this case coincide with our interests to protect the people with whom we have close historical, cultural and economic ties."
"Protecting these people is in our national interests. This is a humanitarian mission. We do not intend to subjugate anyone or to dictate to anyone."
"However, we cannot remain indifferent if we see that they are being persecuted, destroyed and humiliated. However, I sincerely hope it never gets to that."
Putin explained above what motivates him. "(W)hat motivates our partners," he asked? "They supported an unconstitutional armed take-over, declared these people legitimate and are trying to support them."
Let them explain. Hold their feet to the fire. Supporting illegitimate governance shows contempt for rule of law principles.
Conspiring against a sitting governance to install them shows complicity. Putin has no legitimate partner in Kiev, he said. No recognition will be extended until one exists.
"As for Crimea," he said, its parliament was formed in 2010. Its members are legitimate. Prime Minister Aksyonov "is definitely legitimate."
Armed men tried occupying the Crimean Supreme Soviet building, said Putin. They "wanted to apply the Kiev scenario..."
They planned "terrorist attacks (to) cause chaos." Local residents formed "self-defense committees and took over all the armed forces."
They did it without firing a single shot. Kiev putschists were trained "at special bases in neighboring states," said Putin.
"(I)n Lithuania, Poland and in Ukraine itself, too," he added. They operated like special forces. They had "Western instructors."
Asked how he sees Crimea's future, he said:
"(I) believe that only residents of a given country who have the freedom of will and are in complete safety can and should determine their future."
"If this right was granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this was made possible in many different parts of the world, then nobody has ruled out the right of nations to self-determination, which, as far as I know, is fixed by several UN documents."
"However, we will in no way provoke any such decision and will not breed such sentiments."
"I would like to stress that I believe only the people living in a given territory have the right to determine their own future."
"(W) do not plan, and we will not fight with the Ukrainian people."
If Russian forces are used, "it will only be to protect Ukrainian citizens."
Normalized relations with Kiev won't happen until legitimate governance is in power.
Ukrainians alone should decide who'll lead them democratically. So far they have no say. Putin remains concerned for good reason.
Neo-Nazis have control. "(W)e see them today, people wearing armbands with something resembling swastikas, still roaming around Kiev at this moment..."
These type people in power pose "serious consequences for" Ukraine, Putin stressed.
He covered much more ground. He patiently addressed questions raised. He summed up his position saying:
"(I)f the people who call themselves the government now hope to be considered a civilized government, they must ensure the safety of all their citizens, no matter in which part of the country, and we of course will follow this situation closely."
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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