|Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference in his country residence of Novo-Ogaryova outside Moscow on March 4, 2014. What happened in Ukraine could only be described as an anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. (Xinhua/RIA Novosti)
MOSCOW/KIEV, March 4 (Xinhua) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called events in Ukraine a coup and argued that the use of force was Russia's last resort to solving the ongoing crisis.
Speaking at a televised press conference, Putin said that by the time of signing the agreement on Feb. 21, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had in effect given up his power.
"I told him he had no chance to be re-elected. So I don't understand why the opposition needs to seize power by force," Putin noted, adding Yanukovych remains the sole legitimate president of Ukraine, although he has been ousted by parliament.
The one-hour press conference was the first time Putin made public comments on the Ukrainian crisis since the recent escalation of tensions in that country.
Putin said Yanukovych would have been killed if Russia did not give him refuge, and Moscow did so out of "humanitarian motives."
As for the situation in Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea, the center of the ongoing crisis, Putin said Moscow is not considering Crimea's accession to Russia and won't encourage such sentiments.
Only the Crimeans themselves can decide their own future, he said.
Putin vowed that Russia will provide the Crimean authorities with financial aid.
Asked by reporters whether he was concerned about the fact that sending Russian troops to Ukraine may trigger a war, Putin said Moscow was not going to go to war with the Ukrainian people.
"We have no enemies there. Ukraine is a friendly country, including those from western Ukraine. They are all brothers of ours," he said.
"Our armed forces are brothers in arms, many officers know each other personally. I'm sure Russian and Ukrainian troops will be on the same side, like what's happening in Crimea," Putin added.
"If we'll see the lawlessness starts in eastern regions, we reserve the right to use all means to protect these people," Putin said, stressing that would be the last resort.
Commenting on what happened in Kiev's Independence Square in the past few days, Putin said although he understood sentiments of the Ukrainians, no one should attempt illegal change of power.
"If they (upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine) are held against the backdrop of terror that we are now witnessing in Kiev, then we won't recognize them," he said.
Putin refused to reveal the content of his talks with leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) over the Ukraine crisis but hinted that he asked his Western partners to remember how the United States acted in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
He accused Western countries of turning the political life in Ukraine into a farce. "Western instructors did their job well. We saw well-trained armed groups there (in Kiev). Everything was well organized," he said.
The president also urged Western countries to think twice before making any decision to impose sanctions on Russia.
"Those who are going to impose sanctions must think first, as the harm will be mutual in the modern world," Putin said, adding if Western leaders don't want to attend the G8 summit scheduled in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in June, they are free not to come.
Putin called the option to recall the Russian ambassador from the United States the last resort which "hopefully" will not happen.
"It's very easy to destroy cooperation and very hard to rebuild it," he said.
In Kiev, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called on Kremlin to adhere to the bilateral military agreements, in particular the deal on the number of the military troops of Russian naval base in Ukraine.
"The agreements between Ukraine and Russia on the Black Sea Fleet division parameters suggest accurate numbers of military equipment and military personnel who may locate in Crimea," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Eugene Perebiynis told a news briefing.
Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea became the new epicenter of an ongoing tension in the East European country, as last week armed groups seized government and parliament buildings in Crimea and took control of the two airports. Russian flags were raised over the seized buildings.
The Russian fleet has been based in Crimean city of Sevastopol since the reign of Catherine the Great in the 18th century. But under an agreement after Ukraine gained independence, the fleet would have had to leave in 2017.
In April 2010, Ukraine renewed the lease of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on its Crimean Peninsula by 25 years in exchange for gas price discounts.
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