Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russian forces had been deployed to Crimea last month to support local defence teams, the first time he has admitted such involvement by Russia.
Putin had repeatedly denied sending any forces to Crimea ahead of the March referendum there that eventually led to the region’s annexation by Russia. Putin said the troops were deployed to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea.
“Of course we had our servicemen behind the self-defence units of Crimea,” Putin said during an annual televised call-in with the nation on Thursday. “We had to make sure what is happening now in eastern Ukraine didn’t happen there.”
Three pro-Russian militants died and 13 were wounded Thursday as Ukraine’s military defended an attack on its Black Sea base, according to The Associated Press.
The United States and other Western nations have accused Russia of being behind similar unrest in eastern Ukraine, promising additional sanctions if events continue on their current path. Again on Thursday, Putin denied any Russian military forces are in east Ukraine, but many have noted how the situation in eastern Ukraine is starting to play out exactly as it did in Crimea.
In March, Putin’s repeated denials of troop deployments in Crimea dumbfounded U.S. officials. When told at a press conference Putin had again denied the charges, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t believe it, asking, “He really denied there were troops in Crimea?”
In a press conference earlier that day in Russia, Putin was asked by reporters about the mysterious appearance of men in green uniforms in Crimea. He called them local self-defence units.
“There are many military uniforms. Go into any local shop and you can find one,” he said.
He also said then that Russia had no plans to annex Crimea — which happened less than a month later.
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