Russian President Vladimir Putin said that an “apocalyptic” scenario in Ukraine is “hardly possible” and expressed his hope that it would never come to be. He added that a “return to normal life” in eastern Ukraine was possible, if the authorities in Kyiv would build relations with this region “in a civilised way”.
In an interview with the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Putin said the West “doesn’t want” to see the truth – that Russia is not involved in the military conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Asked by the journalist “why doesn’t the world see the truth”, according to a transcript, published by the Kremlin website, the Russian President repled that “The monopoly on world media gives our opponents the possibility to behave towards us as they do.”
Putin added that the Ukrainian authorities blame Russia to justify their defeat. “The worst is the instigation of conflict between Ukraine and Russia, or attempts to stir up the conflict,” Putin said.
Asked to comment on statements made by the US government that Russia directly participated in the battle of Debaltseve, Putin said he hasn’t heard such assessments.
The journalist asked Putin if he had “attract(ed) the attention of our European partners to the Nazi ideology which became triumphant in Kiev.”
“They try not to notice anything,” Putin replied. But he added that it was France and Germany who insisted that the authorities in Kyiv should give more autonomy to eastern Ukraine.
The omen on Merkel and Hollande
“If you paid attention to (the) Minsk protocol, which speaks of the decentralization of power, there is a footnote, that this implies. The authors of this footnote are our German and French partners. It speaks of their sincere desire to find the compromises that I just mentioned,” Putin said.
The footnote of the Minsk agreement was published by the Kremlin website. It reads:
“Such measures, in accordance with the Law “On special order of local government in some areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions,” include the following:
– Exemption from punishment, harassment and discrimination of individuals associated with the events that took place in some areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions;
– The right to self-determination of the language;
– Participation of local governments in the appointment of heads of prosecutors and courts in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions;
– The possibility for the central executive authorities to conclude with the relevant local authorities agreements on economic, social and cultural development of individual regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions;
– The State shall support socio-economic development of individual regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions;
– Assistance from the central government, cross-border cooperation in selected areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and the regions of the Russian Federation;
– The creation of a people’s militia units to address local councils in order to maintain public order in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions;
– The powers of local council deputies and officers elected in early elections, appointed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine according to this law, cannot be terminated ahead of schedule.”
Asked if the Minsk agreement has helped him recover the trust that existed before between Moscow, Paris and Berlin, Putin replied:
“You could not find absolute confidence, not even in the average family, and at the international level is even more difficult. But it seems to me that we understand each other, and that we generally trust each other. Although, of course, elements of distrust persist, I still believe that our partners rather trust us than not, and, in any case, that they believe in our sincerity.”
Kyiv says it cannot withdraw heavy weapons
In the meantime, Kyiv accused pro-Russian rebels of opening fire with rockets and artillery at villages in eastern Ukraine on Monday (23 February).
The Ukrainian military said it could not pull weapons from the front as required under the tenuous truce, as long as its troops were still under attack.
Kyiv and its Western allies say they fear the rebels, backed by reinforcements of Russian troops, are planning to advance deeper into territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was the driving force behind the Minsk peace deal, said in unusually strong terms that it was now clear that the ceasefire was not being implemented.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said any further attempt to expand rebel territory would be met with fresh Western sanctions on Moscow: “Far from changing course, Russia’s totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level with the separatists’ blatant breach of the ceasefire,” he told parliament.
Ukraine’s currency, practically in free fall this month, fell a further 10% on Monday on fears that the truce could collapse. The central bank said it would tighten currency rules to sustain the hryvnia. The value of Ukrainian debt also fell, with bonds now trading at 40 cents in the dollar.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine following 17-hour negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders had committed to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
In a press conference in Minsk the transcript of which was published on the Kremlin website, Putin said that one of the outstanding issues is that the “representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk peoples’ republics” say their forces have encircled 6.000 to 8.000 Ukrainian troops in the area of Debaltseve, and that they expect them to surrender without violence.