KIEV, March 05, /ITAR-TASS/. The United States has proposed that Russia start direct talks with the new Ukrainian authorities.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on a visit, said Tuesday Russia should sit down to the negotiating table with the new leaders of Ukraine, whose legitimate president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in a violent uprising last month.
Yanukovich fled Ukraine shortly after anti-government protests the country had seen since November took a violent turn on February 18. The Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, took over and appointed an interim head of state and approved a new government, which Russia does not recognize. Yanukovich told journalists in south Russia last week he remained Ukraine’s legitimate leader.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a news conference in his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo on Tuesday that focused on Ukraine. He called the recent developments in the country “an anti-constitutional coup” and “an armed seizure of power.”
Putin also said he believed Yanukovich remained the only legitimate Ukrainian president as no legitimate impeachment procedures had been carried out, and added that Ukraine's parliament was “partially” legitimate.
Kerry also said Tuesday in Kiev that his country would prefer Russia to follow the path of de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine. He called on Russia “to return its troops to the barracks.”
During Tuesday’s news conference, Putin dismissed claims recently voiced by a number of media that Russian armed forces could have taken part in some operations in the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea, where Russians constitute the majority.
“These were local self-defense forces,” Putin said.
Russia leases from Ukraine a naval base in Crimea’s port city of Sevastopol and has its Black Sea Fleet deployed there.
Putin told reporters that “so far, there is no need” to use the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, on March 1 authorized such use "until the situation normalizes" in Ukraine.
However, Putin said, “if we see… lawlessness 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 [Ukrainian] president, we retain the right to use all available means to protect those people. We believe this would be absolutely legitimate.”
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said earlier Yanukovich had written a letter to Putin dated March 1 asking him to use Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine “to reinstate legality, peace, law and order, stability and protect the Ukrainian population.”
The US secretary of state also said Tuesday the Russian government believed the Ukrainian opposition had failed to meet the terms of an agreement with Yanukovich aimed at peaceful transfer of power in Ukraine dated February 21, but emphasized that the US position was that it was Yanukovich who had violated his commitments by fleeing his country.
Kerry also stressed that “diplomacy, not force, can solve disputes like this in the 21st century.” He said the United States was not seeking confrontation.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Putin said Yanukovich had “in fact given up his power” and agreed to all demands of the opposition, but “as soon as he left [Kiev for Kharkov to attend an event], they [radical protesters], instead of vacating the occupied administrative buildings, immediately occupied the presidential residence and the government building - all that instead of acting on the agreement.