PUTIN’S MIXED MESSAGES ON UKRAINE
Referring to Ukraine as Russia’s “fraternal nation” and characterizing the movement that ousted Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych as a “coup,” Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed reporters during a live press conference this morning and insisted Russia had no plans to go to war with Ukraine, though he did not exclude military action.
“There’s not been a shot fired in Crimea,” said Putin, speaking from Moscow.
But he called the fall of Ukraine’s government after the Maiden protests an “unconstitutional coup” and said Russia reserves the right to protect its interests. “When they ask us for help — and we do have a request from the legitimate president — we reserve the right” to military action, he said.
More highlights from Putin, and the ongoing standoff on the Crimean peninsula:
“It is not our goal to conquer somebody, to dictate to somebody,” Putin insisted. “We are not going to go to war with the Ukrainian people.” He also characterized threatened sanctions from the West as “counterproductive,” saying, “It is those that are going to introduce those sanctions who should think about consequences … This damage will be mutual, and you have to think about that.”
The Russian president denied that the 16,000 troops deployed in Ukraine’s Crimea region over the past week are Russian forces, instead calling them “well-coordinated self-defense forces.”
At times during the press conference, Putin contradicted himself. For example, while he called Viktor Yanukovych the rightful president, he also acknowledged that the fallen leader has no political future.
Putin’s press conference followed his order to end military exercises in Western Russia and called troops back to their bases in a move ostensibly meant to calm an increasingly agitated West over his heavy-handed intervention, Reuters reports.
Ukraine’s transitional government in Kiev says Russia demanded that Ukrainian forces in Crimea surrender within hours or face a “military storm,” Kyiv Post reports. Russian Foreign Ministry officials have denied the ultimatums, and the supposed deadline passed this morning without armed conflict. But Russian troops reportedly did fire warning shots at a Crimean air base this morning during a troop standoff.
This comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to meet with Ukraine’s new president and prime minister in Kiev today. The United States and much of the West have met Russia's invasion of Ukraine with strong criticism, and many Western leaders are promising to isolate the Kremlin with economic and other sanctions, Kyiv Post reports. “The world is largely united in recognizing that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, their territorial integrity — that they’re a violation of international law,” President Barack Obama said at the White House late Monday.
The U.S. was preparing to impose sanctions on high-level Russian officials involved in the military occupation of Crimea, as the chaos there created volatility in global markets Monday, hitting the U.S. stock market and pounding the Russian ruble. But despite ongoing tensions in Ukraine, markets were up this morning, the BBC reports.
A Kremlin aide said this morning that if the United States imposes sanctions, Moscow might drop the dollar as a reserve currency and refuse to pay off loans to U.S. banks, Reuters reports.
The Obama administration has suspended military ties to Russia just a day after calling off trade talks. If Moscow doesn’t pull back, officials plan to ban visas and freeze assets of Russian officials and target state-run financial institutions. Congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to quickly approve economic aid for the fragile, new pro-Western government in Ukraine.
For more on the crisis in Ukraine, here’s a Le Monde/Worldcrunch analysis about the options on the table for the country’s future.
From Germany, here’s Worldcrunch’s English version of a Süddeutsche Zeitung piece on Putin.
PISTORIUS TRIAL ABRUPTLY HALTED
The judge presiding over the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic and Paralympic star who has pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, adjourned proceedings this morning to investigate the prosecutor’s objection that a witness photo was broadcast despite explicit instructions against it, IOL News reports. The prosecutor said that he had been told that Pretoria University Lecturer Michelle Burger's face was shown on eNews Channel Africa. Burger testified yesterday that she heard “bloodcurdling screams” from a woman followed by gunshots.
CHINA STABBING VICTIMS REMAIN CRITICAL
Twenty of the 143 people wounded in Saturday’s terrorist attack at Kunming railway station this week remain in critical condition, Xinhua news agency reports. More than 100 emergency operations were performed after knife-wielding attackers stabbed and slashed passengers with long-bladed knives at the railway station, killing 29 people.
Storm alerts have been issued in 40 Spanish provinces warning of strong winds, heavy snowfall, avalanches and dangerous waves along the Atlantic coast, as a fierce storm batters the northern and central areas of the country.
COURT BANS HAMAS IN EGYPT
A Cairo court has outlawed the Palestinian group Hamas group in Egypt, branding it a terrorist organization, AP reports. The court ordered Hamas offices in the country shuttered and all dealings with the group suspended. Egypt's relations with Hamas, an ally to ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, have deteriorated since the military removed Morsi last July.
FIRST FEMALE INVESTMENT BANK HEAD IN SAUDI
Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank (NCB) has appointed Sarah Al-Suhaimi as chief executive of its investment banking arm, which represents the first time a woman has been named to lead an investment bank in the conservative kingdom, Reuters reports.
BY THE NUMBERS
Starting next month, Nepalese officials have a new method for trying to clean up Mount Everest after officials estimated that 50 tons of trash have been left on the mountain by climbers over the past six decades. Here’s the heavy trick.
JIMMY KIMMEL MAKES ROB FORD SWEAT … AGAIN
The day before the Oscars, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, dressed as a chauffeur, personally picked up Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from LAX airport. But that wasn’t the last laugh, The Hollywood Reporter notes. Ford, who said he traveled to Los Angeles to promote Toronto as “Hollywood North,” used his television appearance to tout his accomplishments and criticized those who had exploited his crack-smoking ways. Meanwhile, Kimmel did what Kimmel does, mercilessly mocking the embattled politico. “Don’t get me wrong,” he told Ford on the show. “I’m glad that you are here. But why are you here? What good could come of this? Have you ever seen this show?” Ford addresses expand=1] why he accepted the invitation in this video.