President Vladimir V. Putin broke his silence over the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia broke his silence over the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday for the first time since it boiled over into a possible armed confrontation, asserting that he saw no reason for Russian forces to intervene in eastern Ukraine at the moment but leaving open the possibility of military action, saying that Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” Russian speakers in the country’s south and east if they are in danger.
Mr. Putin’s comments — in an hourlong unscripted news conference in Moscow in which he described events in Ukraine as an unconstitutional coup and expressed contempt toward the United States — came as East-West tensions escalated in the former Soviet republic on Russia’s doorstep, which has been convulsed in a political and economic crisis for months. The crisis escalated sharply last week when Russia moved to strengthen control over Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula, home to the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited the capital of Kiev carrying a promise of $1 billion in emergency aid, Russian soldiers deployed in Crimea fired warning shots, and the pro-Kremlin regional leader there said he was accelerating a plan for an independence referendum.
In the midst of the crisis, Russia also successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile, Russian news agencies reported, although the test had been scheduled well in advance and the United States said it had been previously notified. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced in January that it planned to test 70 types of rocket and missile weaponry this year.
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