KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian President
The Kremlin leader said he did not recognize the authority of Ukraine’s parliament and considered fugitive ex-President
Putin laid out his position on the recent tumult in Ukraine as U.S. Secretary of State
In a small gathering with journalists from Russia's state-controlled media, Putin said he rejected the authority of Kiev's newly named interim government, accusing the recently empowered opposition politicians of having staged "an anti-constitutional coup."
Putin echoed the line of Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, on Monday, when he said the parliamentary authorization for use of force by Russian troops on Ukrainian territory had been requested at the urging of Yanukovich. The ousted Ukrainian ex-president has been seen only once since fleeing what he contends were threats to his life 11 days ago, at a press conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the border with Ukraine.
Both Putin and Churkin indicated that the Kremlin's support for Yanukovich is lukewarm at best. Putin said the Ukrainian's political career was "finished" and that Moscow granted him asylum to save his life.
Yanukovich spurred the three-month rebellion that eventually drove him from power when he refused to sign an association agreement with the
Russian politicians and media have cast the
No incidents of ethnic violence have been reported, but Moscow's constant drumbeat of warnings about dangers posed by "radicals" and "fascists" now running Kiev instilled widespread fear and rebellion among Russians, who are a majority in Crimea.
Putin said in his news conference that he didn't believe he would need to deploy troops to eastern Ukraine, where cities such as Kharkiv, Donetsk and other industrial strongholds have also been wracked by pro-Moscow demonstrators in recent days.
The Kremlin also announced Tuesday that military exercises involving 150,000 troops ordered last week had concluded and Russian forces were returning to their bases.
The announcement of an end to the military maneuvers, which had been scheduled to run only through Monday, may have been an attempt to mollify Western governments that have insisted Putin take steps to de-escalate the dangerous armed face-off gripping Crimea.
On Tuesday, an Israeli journalist videoed a confrontation between Ukrainian military troops marching on a Russian armed patrol around the Ukrainians' air force base in the town of Belbek, near Sevastopol. The troops demanded that they be allowed back in to their posts. A handful of Russian troops were standing guard at the base entrance and fired warning shots over the Ukrainians' heads, threatening to shoot at their legs if they tried to get by the roadblock.
In a further sign of the eroding relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the Gazprom energy behemoth announced that it was cutting its 30% subsidy to Kiev on gas exports because the country is in arrears on payments for past shipments to the tune of $1.55 billion.