Putin: Avoid Troops in Ukraine, but Will Use Force if Necessary

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Ukraine situation in his annual televised phone-in on Thursday. He told his audience he does not want to use forces in Ukraine, but did not rule out the possibility.

Ukrainians and the West claim Russia is behind the hostilities in the east, but Putin denies it.

"It's all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine," Putin said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry claims they have evidence Russia is involved and will present everything in Geneva on Thursday when Ukraine, the European Union, the US and Russia meet. Putin hopes the meeting will solve the situation.

"I think the start of today's talks is very important, as it's very important now to think together about how to overcome this situation and offer a real dialogue to the people," Putin said.

Putin also slammed Ukraine’s actions against the pro-Russians and said it was a “grave crime” to use “the army to try to quell unrest in the east of the country.” Putin wants the situation between the two countries to be handled diplomatically. Yet, ever since parliament ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow has made it clear they do not recognize the new government. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on many occasions there will be no talks until a legitimate leader emerges in Ukraine.

There have been polls that show people in east Ukraine want to be in a united Ukraine even though Putin claims east Ukrainians are rising against an illegal government. Over 10 government buildings have been seized in east Ukraine cities, mainly in Donetsk Oblast. These forces attacked a building in Mariupol on Wednesday night, which left four protesters dead and residential areas damaged from bullets and Molotov cocktails.

He did acknowledge the soldiers in unmarked uniforms in Crimea were Russian soldiers. However, he did not say if they were sent from Moscow or were members of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has a port in the peninsula.

When asked on Thursday who the men in unmarked uniforms were, Putin said they were Russian servicemen who "stood behind the back of Crimea's self-defense forces." From the AP:

"They acted politely, but resolutely and professionally," he said. "There was no other way to hold the referendum in an open, honest and honorable way and allow the people to express their opinion."

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