Russian President Vladimir Putin broke his silence on the Ukraine crisis Tuesday and accused the U.S. of interfering in world affairs as if it were conducting experiments on lab rats.
“I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing,” Putin told reporters. “Why would they do that? Nobody can explain it.”
Putin is under growing pressure from world leaders who have condemned Russia's intervention in the strategic Crimean Peninsula. His first comments since Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month came shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kiev on a trip intended to show solidarity with Ukraine's new leaders.
Putin also accused the West of driving Ukraine into anarchy, adding that while Europe and the United States criticized Russia for its actions, he would remind them of military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
"This was an anti-constitutional coup and military seizure of power”
"Our partners, especially in the U.S., they always very clearly and distinctly are pursuing their own geopolitical interests persistently and then use the very famous phrase: 'those who aren't with us, are against us', are dragging the rest of the world with them," he added.
Putin was referring to President George W. Bush’s declaration aimed at countries around the world in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that "you're either with us, or against us."
When asked if the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine existed, Putin said: "There is no need to do that now."
He also suggested that Yanukovych was the country's legitimate leader.
"This was an anti-constitutional coup and military seizure of power. Who argues with this?” Putin told reporters during a two-hour news conference at one of his homes near Moscow.
Ukraine's new government is looking to put Yanukovych on trial for the deaths of more than 80 people during protests in Kiev.
"He agreed to everything the opposition was demanding -- the early parliamentary elections, the early presidential elections, to go back to the constitution of 2004," Putin added. "He agreed to the request from us and the West not to apply force."
Putin said he met Yanukovych two days ago in Russia. He dismissed rumors Yanukovych had died of a heart attack, describing him as "safe and sound."
He held out no hope that Yanukovych would return to power, however.
“He has already given up his power and I already told him before that he did not have any chance of being re-elected," Putin said, adding that the Ukrainian parliament was "partly legitimate."
"The acting president [Oleksandr Turchynov] is not legitimate," he said.
Putin, whose forces took control of Ukraine's strategic peninsula of Crimea over the weekend, said he understood the frustration expressed by Ukrainian protesters.
They were demanding change because of the series of inept and corrupt leaders that had governed the Ukraine, he said.
Putin described Ukraine as Russia's "brotherly republic," adding that many of his troops knew their Ukrainian counterparts personally. The Russian leader said he was "certain" that Ukrainian and Russian forces would be "on the same side of the barricade."
Tensions were high in Crimea on Tuesday, with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers.
Henry Austin of NBC News and Reuters contributed to this report.
First published March 4 2014, 2:54 AM