"You should note that, thank God, not a single gunshot has been fired there; there are no casualties, except for that crush on the square about a week ago. What was going on there? People came, surrounded units of the [Ukrainian] armed forces and talked to them, convincing them to follow the demands and the will of the people living in that area. There was not a single armed conflict, not a single gunshot.
"Thus the tension in Crimea that was linked to the possibility of using our Armed Forces simply died down and there was no need to use them. The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in. We did this, it was the right thing to do and very timely."
So, Putin did not deny that Russian troops were present in Crimea. He even acknowledged that they were operational and were prepared to take action in defense of Crimean citizens if necessary.
Arguably, Putin did dissemble on one point, though the precise circumstances were unclear. When a reporter asked him about a specific case of some people "wearing uniforms that strongly resembled the Russian Army uniform," he demurred, claiming "those were local self-defense units."
A Formal Speech
Two days after a hastily called referendum, which recorded a 96 percent vote in favor of seceding from Ukraine and rejoining Russia, Putin returned to the issue of Russian involvement in Crimea, a territory that first became part of Russia in the 1700s.
On March 18 in a formal speech to the Russian Federation, Putin justified Crimea's desire to escape the control of the coup regime in Kiev, saying:
"Those who opposed the [Feb. 22] coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.
"Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part."
Again, Putin was not claiming that the Russian government had no involvement in Crimea. He was, in contrast, confirming that it was involved. He continued:
"First, we had to help create conditions so that the residents of Crimea for the first time in history were able to peacefully express their free will regarding their own future. However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law. Firstly, it's a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law -- better late than never.
"Secondly, and most importantly -- what exactly are we violating? True, the President of the Russian Federation [Putin] received permission from the Upper House of Parliament to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. However, strictly speaking, nobody has acted on this permission yet. Russia's Armed Forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement.
"True, we did enhance our forces there; however -- this is something I would like everyone to hear and know -- we did not exceed the personnel limit of our Armed Forces in Crimea, which is set at 25,000, because there was no need to do so."
However, several weeks later, when Putin reiterated these same points, saying that Russian troops were in Crimea in support of the Crimean people's right to have a referendum on secession from Ukraine, the New York Times and other U.S. publications began claiming that he had reversed himself and had previously hidden the Russian troop involvement in Crimea.
That was simply bad reporting, which now gets repeated whenever the Times mentions Putin's denial of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Clearly, there is nothing "similar" between Putin's previous statements about Crimea and his current ones about eastern Ukraine.
Beyond sloppy reporting, however, something arguably worse is playing out here, since this distortion fits with the pattern of anti-Russian bias and anti-Putin prejudice that has pervaded the "news" coverage at the Times and other major U.S. media outlets.
Rather than show some independence and professionalism, the Times and the rest of the MSM have marched in lock-step with the propaganda pronouncements emanating from the U.S. State Department.
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