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Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Says Putin's Latest Remarks 'Ominous'

Russia President Vladimir Putin’s description of the Ukraine crisis as an unconstitutional coup is an “ominous threat” that could be used to justify a further Russian push into Ukraine, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to Russia said Tuesday.

Ambassador Michael McFaul, who left the post just last week to teach at Stanford University, told NBC News in an interview that Putin’s remarks implied Russia no longer has to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“That’s disturbing. That’s an ominous threat that President Putin was making,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Putin told reporters that there was “no need” for further Russian action. But he insisted that the ouster last month of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, amounted to an “anti-constitutional coup.”

McFaul said it was Putin's logistical way of trying to legitimize the intervention into Crimea. “It’s complete nonsense as far as I’m concerned,” McFaul said.

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McFaul described Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula as an impulsive move by Putin and a reaction to Yanukovych’s ouster, not something long-planned.

He said Putin, in his remarks Tuesday, appeared to be alluding to a 1994 agreement in which Russia and other countries agreed to respect Ukraine’s boundaries in exchange for Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Putin was essentially saying that Ukraine’s illegal overthrow of its elected president canceled existing security agreements — a line of thinking that Russia could use to justify pushing further into eastern Ukraine, McFaul said.

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— Erin McClam