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TEXT-Extracts from Putin news conference on Ukraine

Source: Reuters - Tue, 4 Mar 2014 17:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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MOSCOW, March 4 (Reuters) - Here are some extracts from Russian President Vladimir Putin's news conference on Tuesday, his first public comments on Ukraine since Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted and fled the country on Feb. 21.

ON BRINGING IN RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES

If we see this lawlessness starting in eastern regions, if people there ask us for help - and we already have the official request of the legitimate president (Yanukovich) - we reserve the right to use all available resources to safeguard these citizens. And we consider this fully legitimate.

This is the last resort. We believe, have believed and will believe, that Ukraine is not only our closest neighbour but really brotherly republic.

Our armed forces and brothers in arms, friends, many know one another personally. I am convinced that Ukrainian and Russian military personnel will not be on different sides of the barricade but on the same side.

Even if I take a decision to use the armed forces, it will be legitimate, fully corresponding to the common norms of the international law - since we have the appeal of the legitimate president - as well as our obligations.

And, in this case, it would also correspond to our interest in protecting the people who are closely tied to us historically, culturally, economically.

This (would be) a humanitarian mission. We do not seek to dictate anything.

As for bringing in forces. For now there is no such need, but such a possibility exists.

What could serve as a reason to use military forces? It would naturally be the last resort, absolutely the last ... Of course we will not be able to stay away if we see that they are starting to persecute, destroy them.

ON NEW AUTHORITIES IN KIEV

A few days ago I asked the government to think of how we can go on having contacts with those authorities in Kiev that we do not consider fully legitimate, in order to safeguard cooperation in economy and industry.

As for the legitimacy of the current authorities. The parliament partly is (legitimate), all the rest is not. And absolutely clearly there can be no talk of any legitimacy of the acting president...

There can be only one assessment of what happened in Kiev, in Ukraine in general. This was an unconstitutional coup and the armed seizure of power. No one argues with this...

Though I do not welcome the fact of changing authorities this way, I do understand those people in the Maidan who still demand a radical change, not a refurbishing of the facade of the authorities. They are used to changing one (set of) swindlers to different swindlers.

We see the rampancy of neo-Nazis, nationalists, anti-Semites now taking place in some parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.

A change of power was indeed necessary in Ukraine, judging by all appearances. But only in a legal way, within the framework of the constitution.

ON YANUKOVICH

Legally speaking, there is only one legitimate president. It's clear he has no power left. But the legitimate president, in pure legal terms, beyond any doubt is only Yanukovich.

Yanukovich told me ... he gave orders to move all police units away from the capital. He called me on the phone and I told him not to do it, that it would bring chaos and anarchy in the capital, that he should feel for the people. But he did it anyway. And the moment he did it, his office and the government were seized and this chaos started that I warned him against.

I think he has no political future. And I told him that.

We did it (received Yanukovich in Russia) because of purely humanitarian reasons ... I think he would have been killed (had he stayed in Ukraine).

ON ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE

All citizens of Ukraine, no matter where they live, should have equal rights to participate in their country's life and decide its future.

If I were those who consider themselves legitimate authorities, I would speed up necessary procedures (for elections) because they do not have a mandate from the whole nation to conduct domestic (or) international affairs, let alone to decide the future of Ukraine.

If they are held under such terror as we see now, then we won't (recognise the result of presidential elections)...

The people in southeastern Ukraine should feel safe and (that they are) parties to the common political process of stabilising the situation in the country.

ON ECONOMY, MARKETS, AID TO UKRAINE, CRIMEA

In principle we would be ready to consider a further step to release more tranches (to Ukraine)... additional purchases of bonds, but our Western partners have asked us not to do it. They have asked us to work together within the IMF framework to encourage the Ukrainian government to carry out necessary reforms to heal the economy.

Crimea has turned to us for humanitarian assistance. And we will naturally do that. How much, when, from what resources, I cannot yet say. The government is working on it...

As for markets, they have shown a certain nervousness even before the events in Ukraine, before the escalation. That was related to the U.S., which made its decision to make investing in the United States relatively attractive. And investors have started shifting away from emerging markets towards the U.S. market...

As for events in Ukraine, yes, politics always influence the markets this way or another. Money likes silence, peace and stability. But I think this is only a temporary influence.

We are getting ready for the G8 summit, we will be ready to host our colleagues. But if they don't want to come, they don't need to.

ON THREAT OF SANCTIONS

As for sanctions, those who are going to introduce sanctions should first and foremost think of the consequences. Of course one can cause some harm to the other, but that would be mutual harm and this should also be considered. We consider our approach well-founded and any threats against Russia counter-productive and harmful.

ON UNITED STATES, WEST

They have supported an anti-constitutional coup and an armed seizure of power. They have declared these people legitimate and are trying to support them. Even in this case, we are patient and ready to cooperate even, we do not want to break ties.

And this is not the first time our Western partners are doing this in Ukraine. Sometimes I get the impression that across the pond, somewhere in America, staff at some laboratory are sitting there conducting experiments, like on rats, without understanding the consequences of what they are doing.

The nation wanted changes. But illegal changes should not be encouraged...

Look how well-prepared were the people who operated in Kiev. They were trained in foreign bases, as is well known, in Lithuania, in Poland, also in Ukraine. They were prepared by instructors for a long time. They have turned Ukraine's political life into a farce...

I think it would be the height of cynicism now to put the holding of the Paralympic Games under any threat...

ON GAS

Before all this acute phase of the events, Gazprom and the Russian government reached an agreement under which Gazprom introduces a discount to $268 per thousand cubic metres, the Russian government gives out the first tranche of the credit ... that is $3 billion in the first stage, and the Ukrainian side takes on an obligation to fully pay off its debt from the second half of the past year as well as pay regularly the current payments.

The debt was not paid, the current payments are not fully covered. If the Ukrainian partner does not pay for February, the debt will only grow. It's $1.5-1.6 billion now and if they do not pay in full for February it will be nearly $2 billion.

If you are not paying us anyway and we are only noting a growing debt, we'd better note it under a regular price, not a lowered price. This is the commercial element of Gazprom operations. That is not linked to politics or anything.

We had a deal - we give you money and a lower gas price, you pay us regularly. We gave money and lowered the gas price but there are no payments. So Gazprom naturally says this is a no go.

ON RUSSIA

We have many problems in Russia, very similar ones. But they are not as acute as there (in Ukraine)... The difference in living standards is great. (Compiled by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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