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Putin: Reports Of Russian Involvement In Eastern Ukraine 'Nonsense'

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin says claims Russian soldiers or undercover agents are involved in the current separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine are "nonsense."

Speaking at his annual question-and-answer session with the Russian public on April 17, Putin said "only locals" were involved in the unrest.

He said people in eastern Ukraine became worried about their future after what he called the "unconstitutional coup" in Ukraine.

He said using force and "sending tanks and aircraft" against the civilian population in the region was "another very serious crime" on the part of Kyiv's authorities.

According to Putin, Russia did not plan the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. He said real "threats" against the Russian-speaking population forced Moscow to act.

Putin admitted that Russian troops stood behind local self-defense forces during the secessionist referendum in Crimea in March.
READ MORE: Follow Putin's Full 3 1/2-Hour Appearance, Plus Reactions

He also said he was sure Russia and Ukraine could reach a compromise, saying the neighboring countries shared a large number of common interests.

He also said he attaches great importance to four-party talks involving Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union opening later on April 17 in Geneva.

'Trust With West Is Lost'

But Putin said that trust between Russia and the United States had been lost "to a certain extent," and that it wasn't Moscow's fault. He said trust was lost long before the crisis in Crimea.

He said Russia wants to restore cooperation, but Washington should stop using "double standards" and respect the interests of others and international law.

Putin also said Moscow does not want to spoil relations with Europe. But he recalled an incident when he claimed that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at the time the Danish prime minister, secretly taped a private conversation with Putin and leaked it to the press.

"How can there be trust after such incidents?" Putin asked.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu rejected Putin's accusation, calling it "complete nonsense."

Lungescu told Reuters news agency that during his term in office as Danish prime minister, Rasmussen "never" brought a dictaphone to record meetings with Putin or anybody else.

She added: "In general, to divert attention away from its own illegal and illegitimate actions in Ukraine, Russia has levelled a series of accusations against NATO which distort the facts."

WATCH: Putin: Crimea partly in response to NATO expanion. (Reuters)
And in a surprise development, Putin told former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that Russia does not carry out "massive, indiscriminate" surveillance of its citizens.

Putin said such surveillance would be illegal. He also said that Russia does not have the "technical means" nor the money that the United States has to run such an operation.

Putin, a former KGB agent, said he was speaking as "one professional to another" after Snowden asked his question via video link.

It was Putin's 12th question-and-answer session. There is no time limit for the program, which is broadcast live on major Russian TV channels.

The Kremlin said that it had received more than 2 million questions ahead of the broadcast.

Residents of Crimea and the Crimean city of Sevastopol were also able to ask questions.