WASHINGTON - The State Department mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in unusually pointed language, calling his claims about the Ukraine crisis the most "startling Russian fiction" since the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that "the formula 'two plus two equals five' is not without its attractions."
Under the heading "President Putin's Fiction," the statement challenged 10 assertions Putin had made in recent days to justify Russian troop incursions into Ukraine's Crimea region.
The biting language came on a day when Secretary of State John F. Kerry was in Paris for talks aimed at finding the Russians a face-saving way out of the crisis over Ukraine. Yet U.S. officials also want to build international pressure on Putin by exposing what they view as falsehoods that the Russian leader has used to justify his actions.
The statement is another sign of how badly U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated since the Ukraine crisis began to develop three months ago.
Though Putin claims "citizen defense groups" have taken control of Crimean infrastructure and military facilities, the U.S. statement said "strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea."
The statement also challenged Putin's claim that Russian troops were needed to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea. It said that except in the Russian media, there have been no reports of any ethnic Russians or Russian military bases being under threat. Nor, it said, have there been mass attacks on churches and synagogues or any evidence that large numbers of people are trying to flee Ukraine, as Putin has asserted.
Contrary to Putin's claims that the interim government in Kiev is trying to destabilize Crimea, the Ukrainian government "has acted with restraint and sought dialogue," the statement said.