RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in Ukraine as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev to offer a $US1 billion ($1.12 billion) energy subsidy package.

Mr Kerry arrived as the Ukraine government grapples with a Russian military takeover of Crimea, a strategic, mostly pro-Russian region in the country’s southeast, and as Mr Putin said he wouldn’t be deterred by economic sanctions imposed punitively by the West.

Tensions remained high in Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers.

In his first comments since Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, Mr Putin said he considers him to still be Ukraine’s leader, and hopes that Russia won’t need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

He rejected the Western threat to punish Russia with sanctions over its action in Ukraine, saying they will backfire against the West.

Earlier Tuesday, the Kremlin said Mr Putin had ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases. The massive military exercise in western Russia involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft was supposed to wrap up anyway, so it was not clear if Mr Putin’s move was an attempt to heed the West’s call to de-escalate the crisis that has put Ukraine’s future on the line.

It came as Mr Kerry was on his way to Kiev to meet with the new Ukrainian leadership that deposed a pro-Russian president, and has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea. The Kremlin, which does not recognise the new Ukrainian leadership, insists it made the move in order to protect Russian installations and its citizens living there…. see more

source: news.com.au