NOVO-OGARYEVO, Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia reserved the right to use all options in Ukraine to protect compatriots living in "terror" but that Moscow would use force only as a last resort.
Breaking his silence on events in Ukraine since the removal of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich, Putin skirted questions about Russian servicemen taking control of the Crimea region, saying armed men who seized buildings were local forces.
He also distanced himself from Yanukovich and said retaliation against Russia over Ukraine would be counterproductive, warning that anyone imposing sanctions should think of the damage they would incur.
"There can be only one assessment of what happened in Kiev, in Ukraine in general. This was an anti-constitutional coup and the armed seizure of power. No one argues with this. Who can argue with it?" said Putin, looking relaxed as he sat before a small group of reporters at his residence near Moscow.
"As for bringing in forces. For now there is no such need but such a possibility exists," he said. "What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort, absolutely the last."
Any intervention, he said, would be "legitimate and within the framework of international law."
Putin said Russia would not encourage separatist moves in Ukraine, where many people in eastern and southern regions are Russian speakers and have closer ties to Russia than to the leaders in Kiev seeking stronger ties with the European Union.
"We are not going to meddle. But we think all Ukraine's citizens, no matter where they live, should have the same rights to ... determine the future of their country," he said.
He said Russia was ready to host a G8 summit as planned this year but if western leaders did not want to come "they don't need to".
He also said a threat to pull Russia's ambassador out of Washington over the events in Ukraine, which Putin blames on Western interference, would be a last resort and that he would not like this to happen.
Denying rumors on the Internet that Yanukovich had died of a heart attack, Putin said he had met the ousted leader two days ago in Russia, where he fled following his removal form power by parliament. He also said he had told Yanukovich that he had no political future.
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