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Putin to send troops to Ukraine as 'last resort'

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia had the right to use “all means” to protect its citizens in Ukraine but denied it had sent troops to Crimea.

The Kremlin chief described the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych after protests in Kiev which left nearly 100 people dead last month as an “armed seizure of power.”

“We reserve the right to use all means to protect,” Putin told reporters at his suburban Moscow residence in a briefing broadcast live on state television.

But while Putin reserved the right to send troops into Ukraine he said that “so far there is no such necessity” and that such a move would only be a last resort.

“There can only be one assessment of what happened in Kiev and Ukraine as a whole — this was an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power,” he added.

Putin also insisted that the Russian military deployment in Ukraine's strategic peninsula of Crimea has remained within the limits set by a bilateral agreement on a Russian military base there. He said Russia has no intentions of annexing Crimea, but insisted its residents have the right to determine the region's status in a referendum later this month.

“We aren't going to fight the Ukrainian people,'' Putin said, adding that the massive military maneuvers Russia has been doing had been planned earlier and were unrelated to the situation in Ukraine.

Putin accused the West of using Yanukovych's decision in November to ditch a pact with the 28-nation European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia to encourage the months of protests that drove him from power and putting Ukraine on the verge of breakup.

“We have told them a thousand times: Why are you splitting the country?” he said.

Yet he acknowledged that Yanukovych has no political future and Russia gave him shelter only to save his life. Ukraine's new government wants to put the fugitive leader on trial for the deaths of over 80 people during protests.

His comments came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for meetings with Ukraine's interim leaders.

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U.N. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin shows a letter from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych requesting Russian President Vladimir Putin use his armed forces to restore peace and defend the people of Ukraine, as he speaks during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at U.N. Headquarters on Monday, March 3. (AP)

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