The Washington Post reports:
President Vladimir Putin, who repeatedly denied Russian troops had entered Crimea before the March referendum there, changed his version of those events Thursday, telling the nation that they had indeed been there all along.
But the green-uniformed men observed in eastern Ukraine right now, storming buildings and raising the Russian flag, are not Russian, he said. “Those are local residents,” he said.
Appearing on a televised call-in program, Putin even took a video question from Edward Snowden, the American former intelligence contractor who revealed large-scale U.S. surveillance programs and has taken refuge in Russia. Putin greeted him as a fellow spy, saying, “We can talk one professional language.”
Snowden asked if Russia spied on its citizens the way he said the United States did. Putin denied it, saying that Russian eavesdropping is strictly controlled by the law.
The United States and Europe in recent days have accused Putin and other Russian officials of lying when they say Moscow has no hand in the disorder playing out in eastern Ukraine, close to Russia’s border.
“Of course we had our servicemen behind the self-defense units of Crimea,” Putin said in his televised meeting with the nation. “We had to make sure what is happening now in eastern Ukraine didn’t happen there.”
Putin was asked in regard to Crimea: “Who were those men in green uniforms?” They were Russian troops, he answered, deployed to make sure residents of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula were safe from assault by the government in Kiev. They also needed the proper conditions, he said, so they could safely vote in a referendum on secession. Russia annexed Crimea after a March 16 referendum, in which voters approved leaving Ukraine.
In early March, reporters asked Putin about the appearance in Crimea of mysterious armed men in green uniforms, which had no insignia but resembled Russian gear.
“There are many uniforms there that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform,” he said then. “Those were local self-defense units.”
Perhaps he had his fingers crossed.