Babich told VoR: “Putin thinks that what happened was just a surrendered of a legitimately elected government to a mob. It was clear from his press conference that he didn’t feel particular sympathy for Yanukovych for doing that. He obviously held Yanukovych responsible for not being able to maintain peace and curtail violence.”

When Vladimir Putin said that Russia reserves any right to use any means to protect its citizens in the east of Ukraine, are we any clearer on what it actually means?

“It appears that the aim is of course not to occupy Crimea or lump it together with Russia. The aim is to protect the Crimean autonomy and to draw certain red lines that Kiev should not cross at least until it get a more or less legitimate government.

"The current government, which has one third of its members being card holding members of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party and another third are former members of Social-National Social Party of Ukraine, now members of Batkivshchyna and Udar.

“Of course with this government it is very hard for Russia and Crimea to talk to it. So obviously Putin’s aim is to draw the red lines, which this new Kiev government should not cross in Crimea and probably in other eastern regions of Ukraine.”

Given that Russia is de facto control of the peninsula, what’s going to happen in Crimea?

“The troops will be in Crimea, outside their barracks probably until the referendum is held on the 30th of March. Hopefully this time it will be a referendum with consequences. I mean, Crimean autonomy will be strengthened because there were several referendums in Crimea in the 90s on autonomy. These referendums never led to any change in the life of the peninsula because Kiev always said that Ukraine is a unitary state and these referendums are illegal with no legal consequences.

“Probably this new referendum will be a different story because now Kiev won’t be able to force its will on Crimea. The main bone of contention between Crimea and Kiev is that the new government in Kiev immediately replaced all governors of Russian-speaking regions and all police chiefs.

“So Crimea wants to decide itself who their police chiefs and governor should be. To me it doesn’t sound separatist. It sounds like a normal right of an autonomous region inside any civilized country.”

 

Background

Putin said there was only one legitimate president, "it's Mr Yanukovych who is president". He said the only option would be for the acting president Turchynov to stand down or to be impeached.

Discussing the army movements on the border of Ukraine in the last few days, he said it was "not related to the situation in Ukraine. Yesterday I ordered them to return to their bases." But he said they would remain committed to defending the lives and health of Ukrainians.

"As for bringing in forces. For now there is no such need but such a possibility exists," he said. "What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort, absolutely the last. We believe that Ukraine is not only our closest neighbour, it is our fraternal nation. Our armed forces are brothers in arms. Many have known each other for many years."

Russian equities, bonds and the rouble soared on Tuesday after he said Moscow would only use force in Ukraine "as a last resort" after ordering troops involved in a military exercise in western Russia back to base.

Asked about telephone contacts with major world leaders he said: “Our telephone conversations are confidential. Sometimes we even talk on a secret line so I cannot tell you.”

But he then went on to say what he generally told the leaders of the US, UK and Germany, accusing the West of abusing the UN Security Council for their demans for regime change in other countries:

“We are often accused of being illegitimate in what we do. I asked, is everything you do legitimate? In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya they acted without any sanction of the United Nations Security Council or they distorted the meaning of any Security Council resolution.”

He said that in many cases, what started as a no-fly zone operation became a bombing raid.

Putin said the West often used the phrase “Whoever is not with us is against us”.

“We believe that we are completely legitimate in what we do [in Ukraine]. Even if we use the armed forced it will be legitimate.

“This a humanitarian mission it is not our goal to conquer or dictate but we will not remain indifferent if we see those people are being destroyed humiliated killed.

“All threats against Russia are counter-productive.”

Asked whether war might break out of the deployed armed forces into Ukraine, the president said: “There will be no war. We are not going to go to war with the Ukrainian people. If we make this decision we will make it in order to protect the people of Ukraine.”

Staunch personal defence of Yanukovych

Asked whether Viktor Yanukovych had any political future, he said: “I don’t think he has a political future. I told him that. We only [took him in to Russia] out of humanitarian reasons. Death is the only way to get rid of a legitimate president. They would just kill him.”

He described the new regime in Kiev as an “unconstitutional overthrow and an armed seizure of power and no-one has challenged that. Who’s saying that’s not true? But for me there’s a big question: neither I nor my colleagues can reply to it. You know I’ve been discussing the Ukrainian crisis over the phone with a lot of our western partners.

“President Yanukovych, with the mediation of three foreign ministers of European countries - Poland, Germany and France - in the presence of my representative, we all signed, with the opposition, the crisis settlement agreement according to which – whether it’s good or bad, I’m just giving you the facts – Mr Yanukovych has almost lost all his power.

“He agreed to almost anything the opposition wanted. He agreed to early parliamentary elections, early presidential election, to return to the 2004 constitution and he responded to our proposal and the proposal of Western countries positively. He said he would not use force. He never issued any commands to shoot at the protestors.

“There was no such order. And he also ordered to pull out the interior troops – all of the police troops – of the capital. He went to a conference in the city of Kharkov. As soon as he left Kharkov, the power was seized.

“Instead of unblocking some of the buildings that were seized, they [the protestors] blocked and seized the administrative buildings and his residence. Why was that done? He has given away all his power. I told him he had no chance of re-election and everyone agreed. All my partners, all my counterparts I talked to over the phone agreed with that.

“So why did he need to engage with those unconstitutional intimidators? Why do you need to plunge the country into chaos? And there is still some radical extremists, masked and armed on the streets of Kiev. Do they want to show their power, show their force to undermine someone’s dignity?

“These were silly actions and it backfired. These steps led to the escalation of tension in the East of Ukraine.

The roots of revolution

Now to why it all happened, I believe it’s a revolutionary situation and I think the root cause goes back to the early days of the Ukrainian statehood. Ordinary Ukranians always suffered when we had Tsar Nicholas, when we had Mr Kravchuk as president and Kuchma and Yanukovych.

"Nothing has really happened. Corruption has now grown to such an extent. Even for Russia it’s unprecedented. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened. We have the same problems and they’re relevant here. But these problems have gone on to an unprecedented scale in the Ukraine. Of course people wanted change.

"You cannot encourage illegal change on the post-Soviet space where you have fragile political arrangements, where economies are still burgeoning. You need to use only constitutional ways. So it’s always a mistake to breach the constitutional rules.

"And I do understand those people at Maidan although I don’t welcome the fact of regime change in this way, I do understand those people who still demand, not some face-lift changes, they are demanding drastic change."

(VoR)