Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Asserts Right to Use Force in East ; Tougher Talk on Ukraine Comes despite Diplomatic Accord to Ease Tensions

Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Asserts Right to Use Force in East ; Tougher Talk on Ukraine Comes despite Diplomatic Accord to Ease Tensions

Article excerpt

The Russian presdident signaled a more aggressive stance even as diplomats said they would take steps to de-escalate tensions after lethal clashes in the region.

President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday reserved the right to use military force in eastern Ukraine and stressed Russia's historical claim to the territory in language rarely used before, signaling a more aggressive stance even as diplomats said they would take steps to de-escalate tensions after lethal clashes in the region.

In his remarks, made during a question-and-answer show on Russian television, Mr. Putin emphasized that the upper chamber of Parliament had authorized him to use military force if necessary in eastern Ukraine. He repeatedly referred to the region as "New Russia," as the area north of the Black Sea was known after it was conquered by the Russian Empire in the late 1700s. He said only "God knows" why it became part of Ukraine in 1920.

He also acknowledged for the first time that Russian armed forces had been deployed in Crimea, the disputed peninsula Russia annexed last month immediately after a large majority of the population voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine. But Mr. Putin dismissed suggestions that Russian troops were behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has mobilized troops along the border with Ukraine. In recent days, pro-Russia demonstrators have caused widespread unrest throughout the eastern part of the country, seizing police stations and other government buildings and forming roadblocks.

Trying to defuse the crisis, high-level representatives of Russia, the United States, Europe and Ukraine, meeting in Geneva, committed their countries to refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocation, and called for illegal armed groups to surrender their weapons and for illegally seized buildings to be returned.

The diplomatic statement late Thursday came after operations overnight by Ukrainian security forces killed three pro-Russian activists and wounded 13 in a firefight in the eastern city of Mariupol. The violence -- the most lethal so far in the east -- underscored the danger of still greater bloodshed as Kiev attempts to dislodge pro-Russia separatists, as well as the potential for intervention from Moscow if it perceives ethnic Russians to be threatened.

Mr. Putin's choice of terms, despite the agreement announced in Geneva, underscored the lingering possibility of intervention as well. In his remarks, he used the historical term "Novorossiya," or "New Russia," to refer to southeastern Ukraine, which he had not emphasized previously. This suggested that he was replicating Russia's assertions of historical ties to Crimea before the occupation and annexation of the peninsula.

Novorossiya generally refers to a broad area, stretching from what is now the border of Moldova in the west to Donetsk in the east, including the port city of Odessa to the south and the industrial center of Dnipropetrovsk to the north. …

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