Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama traded accusations over the crisis inUkraine on Tuesday, with the Russian leader seeking to blame the Americans for the growing international standoff as the US president all but accused Putin of breaking international law.

The barbed exchanges, a sign of the escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow, came as Putin delivered his first public remarks on the crisis – ruling out a war days after his forces took control of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, but reserving the right to use force to protect Russian speakers in the east of the country “as a last resort”.

Speaking from his country residence outside Moscow, Putin gave a robust performance during which he portrayed Kiev as being in the grip of “terror, extremists and nationalists” rampaging on the streets. Putin described what is broadly seen as a Russian land grab in Crimea as “a humanitarian mission”.

Obama and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, responded in apparent disbelief after Putin maintained there were no Russian forces occupying Crimea. “He really denied there were troops in Crimea?” said Kerry after arriving in Kiev, where he offered $1bn in loan guarantees to the new Ukraine government.

Kerry accused the Kremlin of “hiding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation, and provocations”.

Obama said: “There have been reports that Putin is pausing and reflecting on what’s happened. There is a strong belief that Russian action is violating international law. Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers, but I don’t think that is fooling anyone.”

On the ground in Crimea tensions remained high, with Russian forces firing warning shots at unarmed Ukrainian soldiers marching on an airfield.

Following several days of drama that saw Ukraine’s president toppled, a new government and interim head of state installed, and a Russian military seizure of Crimea, Putin said Moscow did not want to annex the territory.

“Regarding the deployment of troops, the use of armed forces. So far, there is no need for it, but the possibility remains,” he said. “What can serve as a reason to use the armed forces? Such a measure would certainly be the very last resort.”.. see more

source: Guardian UK