Putin Asserts Right to Use Force in Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 17, 2014President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia emphasized on Thursday that the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament had authorized him to use military force if necessary in eastern Ukraine, and also stressed Russia’s historical claim to the territory , repeatedly referring to it as “new Russia” and saying that only “God knows” why it became part of Ukraine.

Speaking in a televised question-and-answer show, Mr. Putin also admitted for the first time that Russian armed forces had been deployed in Crimea, the disputed peninsula that Russia annexed last month immediately after a large majority of the population voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine.

Mr. Putin’s remarks on eastern Ukraine came as officials from Russia, the United States, Europe and the new government in Kiev were meeting in Geneva for four-way negotiations aimed at resolving the political crisis. . . .

“I remind you that the Federation Council has given the president the right to use armed forces in Ukraine,” he [Putin] said, referring to the upper house of Parliament. “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve all of the sharp problems.”

Mr. Putin said that Russia felt an obligation to protect ethnic Russians in the region, who are a sizable minority. “We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny,” he said. . . .

“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s new Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 17, 2014 (photo: Office of the President of Russia)