The President of Russia met with media representatives to answer a number of their questions, in particular with regard to the situation in Ukraine.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
How shall we do this? This is what I'd like to suggest: let's have a conversation, rather than an interview. Therefore, I would ask you to begin by stating all your questions, I will jot them down and try to answer them, and then we will have a more detailed discussion of the specifics that interest you most.
Question: Mr President, I would like to ask (you took a lengthy pause, so we have quite a few questions by now) how you assess the events in Kiev? Do you think that the Government and the Acting President, who are currently in power in Kiev, are legitimate? Are you ready to communicate with them, and on what terms? Do you yourself think it possible now to return to the agreements of February 21, which we all talk about so often?
Question: Mr President, Russia has promised financial aid to Crimea and instructions were issued to the Finance Ministry yesterday. Is there a clear understanding of how much we are giving, where the money is coming from, on what terms and when? The situation there is very difficult.
Question: When, on what terms and in what scope can military force be used in Ukraine? To what extent does this comply with Russia's international agreements? Did the military exercises that have just finished have anything to do with the possible use of force?
Question: We would like to know more about Crimea. Do you think that the provocations are over or that there remains a threat to the Russian citizens who are now in Crimea and to the Russian-speaking population? What are the general dynamics there - is the situation changing for the better or for the worse? We are hearing different reports from there.
Question: If you do decide to use force, have you thought through all the possible risks for yourself, for the country and for the world: economic sanctions, weakened global security, a possible visa ban or greater isolation for Russia, as western politicians are demanding?
Question: Yesterday the Russian stock market fell sharply in response to the Federation Council's vote, and the ruble exchange rates hit record lows. Did you expect such a reaction? What do you think are the possible consequences for the economy? Is there a need for any special measures now, and of what kind? For instance, do you think the Central Bank's decision to shift to a floating ruble exchange rate may have been premature? Do you think it should be revoked?
Vladimir Putin: Fine, let us stop here for now. I will begin, and then we will continue. Don't worry; I will try to answer as many questions as possible.
First of all, my assessment of what happened in Kiev and in Ukraine in general. There can only be one assessment: this was an anti-constitutional takeover, an armed seizure of power. Does anyone question this? Nobody does. There is a question here that neither I, nor my colleagues, with whom I have been discussing the situation in Ukraine a great deal over these past days, as you know - none of us can answer. The question is why was this done?
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that President Yanukovych, through the mediation of the Foreign Ministers of three European countries - Poland, Germany and France - and in the presence of my representative (this was the Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin) signed an agreement with the opposition on February 21. I would like to stress that under that agreement (I am not saying this was good or bad, just stating the fact) Mr Yanukovych actually handed over power. He agreed to all the opposition's demands: he agreed to early parliamentary elections, to early presidential elections, and to return to the 2004 Constitution, as demanded by the opposition. He gave a positive response to our request, the request of western countries and, first of all, of the opposition not to use force. He did not issue a single illegal order to shoot at the poor demonstrators. Moreover, he issued orders to withdraw all police forces from the capital, and they complied. He went to Kharkov to attend an event, and as soon as he left, instead of releasing the occupied administrative buildings, they immediately occupied the President's residence and the Government building - all that instead of acting on the agreement.
I ask myself, what was the purpose of all this? I want to understand why this was done. He had in fact given up his power already, and as I believe, as I told him, he had no chance of being re-elected. Everybody agrees on this, everyone I have been speaking to on the telephone these past few days. What was the purpose of all those illegal, unconstitutional actions, why did they have to create this chaos in the country? Armed and masked militants are still roaming the streets of Kiev. This is a question to which there is no answer. Did they wish to humiliate someone and show their power? I think these actions are absolutely foolish. The result is the absolute opposite of what they expected, because their actions have significantly destabilized the east and southeast of Ukraine.
Now over to how this situation came about.