MOSCOW, April 17 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted his right to use military force to protect the rights of Russian citizens in Ukraine, during a live Q&A session.
Putin reminded people that the Russian Federation Council had authorized him to deploy armed forces in Ukraine if necessary, and also spoke of Russia's historical claim to the territory, repeatedly referring to it as “new Russia.” Despite having this authority, Putin said he hoped he wouldn't have to use it.
“I remind you that the Russian Federation Council has given the president the right to use the armed forces in Ukraine. I hope that I won’t have to use this right and that we will be able to solve all the pressing problems in Ukraine today by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said during a live Q&A session with the public Thursday.
During the televised show, Putin did concede the presence of Russian troops in Crimea immediately following last month's referendum to annex the Crimean peninsula. Putin's televised remarks come as Russian officials are meeting with representatives from the United States, Europe and the newly-formed government in Kiev.
Putin came down heavily on Kiev's nascent government, saying that the use of military forces against the ethnic Russian population was "a serious crime" and showed that the government was making no attempts to respond to the demands of the pro-Russian community. He added that the troubles in the east could only be solved by dialogue and not military conflict.
"Instead of realizing that something has gone wrong in Ukraine and making attempts to start dialogue, they have intensified their threats to use force and have even decided to send tanks and aircraft against the civilian population," Putin said. "It is another very serious crime on the part of the current Kiev authorities."
Meanwhile, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Thursday that three pro-Russian protestors were killed, 13 injured and 63 arrested in a confrontation at a military base in the coastal city of Mariupol, 70 miles south of Donetsk.
The incident began Wednesday night when 300 protestors tried to storm the national guard base, after guards refused to lay down their weapons. The protesters opened fire on the base and even hurled Molotov cocktails at the guards.
Interior Ministry police, special forces commandos and the state security service assisted the guards in fighting back the protesters, and "after a short battle, the gang of attackers was dispersed and disarmed," said Avakov.
[The Wall Street Journal] [The New York Times] [RIA Novosti]