Russia does not want to take over Ukraine's Crimea region, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, but he showed no signs of backing down on Russia's presence in the region despite Western pressure.
Putin labeled what had happened in Ukraine an "anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power," and he insisted that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is the legitimate leader of the nation.
He called the parliament in Ukraine "partly legitimate" but said the country's acting President is not.
At the same time, he said he saw no political future for Yanukovych, who resurfaced in Russia on Friday after fleeing Kiev 10 days ago.
Appearing at ease as he addressed a handful of reporters in Moscow, Putin said only the people of Crimea, a Russian-dominated autonomous region, could determine their future.
Putin said that there was no need for the use of the military so far, with not a shot fired, and that any use of military force would be the last resort.
But if Russian-speaking citizens in the east of Ukraine ask for Russia's help, Russia has the right "to take all measures to protect the rights of those people," he said. He repeatedly cast any such intervention as a humanitarian mission.
Military action, he said, would be "completely legitimate" because it was at the request of Yanukovych and in line with Russia's duty to protect people with historic ties to Russia, both cultural and economic.
"Firstly, we have a request of the legitimate President Yanukovych to protect the welfare of the local population. We have neo-Nazis and Nazis and anti-Semites in parts of Ukraine, including Kiev," Putin said.
Russian forces have not fired a shot since they crossed into Crimea, he said.
Putin pointed out what he sees as a double standard by leaders in the United States and other Western countries, saying that the U.S. acted in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya without a U.N. resolution authorizing that action or by "twisting" U.N. resolutions.
And he warned that any damage from sanctions imposed by the West against Russia over its actions in Ukraine would be multilateral.
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NSA leaker Edward Snowden is asking you to trust him. He says there is zero chance Russia or China has any of his top-secret files. Of course he is presently in Russian and wanted in the US on espionage. Can you take him at his word?
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He says he hopes his "friends" in Syria bring their chemical weapons under control and also "have them destroyed" but Vladmir Putin's role as the last, best hope for diplomacy in this crisis isn't winning believers in Washington. CNN's Brian Todd reports.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Armed Services Committee says, "the Russians are part of the problem in Syria. They are not credibly part of the solution."
This skepticism builds as President Putin writes an open letter in the New York Times saying it is not the Syrian government that should be blamed for the use of chemical weapons in the country. He writes:
"There is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."
France says the United Nations will probably publish its report on the August chemical attack on Monday. The country says there will be indications in the report the Assad regime was behind the attack.
Senators Cornyn, John McCain and others have been ticking through laundry lists of why they believe Putin won't follow through on getting the Syrians to give up their alleged chemical weapons.
They cite planeloads of Russian weapons sent to the Syrian regime for hefty profits, nearly $1 billion worth in 2011 alone.
There's also a Russian naval base in Syria.
Julia Ioffe, senior editor at the New Republic, spent three years as a journalist in Russia. She says Putin views his role in the world "to be a counterweight to America."
Though Senator Diane Feinstein and others believe Putin does want to reach a deal to end this crisis and that he doesn't want Syria to have chemical weapons.
Ioffe says Putin wants to be the cause of attention and show President Obama that he has the ability to end this issue peacefully.
The reporter notes the Russian president wants "to be center stage, to be somebody that you reckon with, somebody that you have to come to and seek his approval and you have to come and kiss his ring."
A U.S. response to Syria is imminent after clear word from the Obama Administration insisting the Assad regime is to blame for a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damsacus, which rebels say left some 1300 people dead.
Plans are apparently in the works for a U.S. response, but the White House says nothing has yet been decided.
CNN has learned the National Security Council met Tuesday night at the White House, to discuss Syria. The president did not take part.
Meanwhile, Russia is warning the U.S. against an attack.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted Tuesday: "The West handles the Islamic world the way a monkey handles a grenade."
“There's no love affair between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, but their countries have been in a tight embrace since Soviet times,” reports CNN’s Jill Dougherty.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has said, “The Russian-Syrian relationship is a historical relationship that goes back decades back and is still continuing in the same momentum till this day.”
From military ties to those of blood and religion, the Russians and Syrians have a clear vested interest in one other.
“Syria has been buying its military weapons from Russia since Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled the country and Moscow is still fulfilling some of those Soviet-era contracts,” Dougherty reports.
Also, Russia's naval facility in Syria's port of Tartus is Moscow's only remaining Mediterranean repair spot for its ships.
According to Russian media, at least 25,000 Russian women are married to Syrian men.
And the largest Christian denomination in both Syria and Russia is the Orthodox Church. Moscow fears that if Islamist rebels win, they will be decimated.
“But the deepest reason the Kremlin sticks with Assad is Russia's anger over any unilateral military action or regime change by the West,” Dougherty explains.
“It started with NATO's 1999 air campaign against Russia's ally, Serbia.”
Matters worsened when the west launched airstrikes against Libya's Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011.
Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “Mr. Putin basically came to the conclusion that never again, this will never happen again. That they will stick by Mr. Assad and Syria. Not because they particularly like Mr. Assad but because they see him as the legitimate president, or the legitimate leader of Syria.”
Dougherty says, “Russia now claims there's little difference between President Obama and President George W. Bush. And they predict that if Assad falls what comes after him could be even worse.”
The White House now says President Obama will not meet with Russian President Vlaidmir Putin in Moscow.
"This is certainly a significant turn," CNN's Phil Black reports. "The key trigger for calling off this meeting is that name we've come to know so well, Edward Snowden, and Russia's decision to grant him temporary political asylum."
But it is by no means the only issue at stake. This is really the culmination in a long, steady decline in the relations between these two countries. This is partly because of some big disagreements and a lack of progress on big international issues like Syria, missile defense, nuclear disarmament and also domestic Russian politics in the United States.
CNN is following the trail in Russia today where NSA leaker Edward Snowden is holed-up this morning.
Snowden, considered a fugitive from justice in the U.S., is believed to be waiting for safe-passage to Ecuador, but the government there says it won't be forced into a decision concerning Snowden's asylum request.
CNN's Phil Black is following developments live in Moscow.
Did Russian President Vladimir Putin steal a Super Bowl ring from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft?
Kraft says yes, but an aide to Putin says he witnessed Kraft give the ring as a gift. Alina Cho has more on the story.
Vladimir Putin's nearly 30-year marriage has ended in divorce, the Russian president and his ex-wife told state-run television in a joint interview.
"This was our joint decision. Our marriage is over," Putin told Russia 24, standing next to Lyudmila Putin, in an interview shown Thursday. "We almost don't see each other. We have different lives."
Lyudmila Putin said the two shared a love for their two adult children, but hinted life in the public eye took a toll.
"I don't like to be in public, and it's hard to take (airplane) flights," she said. "We love our children a lot, we are proud of them and see them all the time."
American film star Steven Seagal joined a congressional delegation in a press conference aimed at counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation in Moscow Sunday night. CNN's Phil Black reports that the delegation has been meeting with Russian officials to try and determine what lessons can be learned about cooperation between the two countries in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.
The head of the delegation said that it was actually Seagal who was instrumental in setting up some of their meetings. Black says Seagal received “overwhelming praise about the role that he played” and was credited with “setting up very high level meetings within the Russian establishment, particularly with one of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister’s.”
Seagal himself credited the U.S. Embassy with playing a large role in making the meetings possible. But the actor, who shares an interest in martial arts with Russian President Valdimir Putin, has said in his own words that he is “friends with many presidents in many countries.”
In developments Monday in the Boston marathon bombing investigation, Russian special forces killed two members of a jihadist group during an early morning raid in Dagestan, a semi-autonomous republic in southern Russia, two Russian police sources told CNN.
One of those killed, Shakhrudin Askhabov, was a close associate of Abu Dujan, the islamist group's leader.
Nick Paton Walsh reports on the death of Shakhrudin Askhabov, a close associate of Abu Dujan, and possible 'tangential links' to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.