MOSCOW — In some ways, the venue Vladimir Putin chose and the emotional lecture he gave the world about Russia’s actions in Ukraine said it all.
In an hourlong chat Tuesday, with a handful of Kremlin pool reporters at his presidential residence, Putin sat in an easy chair and spoke with the bravado of an ex-KGB agent suspicious of Western plots.
Wagging his finger at the reporters, the defiant leader dismissed the threat of U.S. and European Union sanctions, alleged “rampaging neo-Nazis” dominate Ukraine’s capital, and said the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers locked in a standoff in Crimea are actually “brothers in arms.”
Putin has long been famous for his cool public demeanor at public appearances that often are carefully stage managed.
But during Tuesday’s news conference — which was televised live across Russia — he made it clear he takes the Ukraine crisis personally.
He accepted questions from reporters about the threat of war in Ukraine, the Russian military takeover of the country’s Crimean Peninsula, and the looming Western sanctions.
But he batted them away with his usual mix of disdainful sarcasm and political arguments in a rapid-fire delivery. When someone’s cellphone rang in the middle of live broadcast, something that reportedly makes him mad, Putin paused then continued his speech.
Putin’s performance seemed to reflect his genuine anger about what he sees as the West’s hypocrisy and its heavy-handed involvement in Ukrainian affairs.
His remarks also showed what many observers spotted: his deep involvement and strong personal feelings about the Ukrainian crisis, which he blames on the West.
He also seems to see Ukraine as a defining moment of his 14-year rule and a key turning point for post-Cold War Europe.
Putin acknowledged the Ukrainians who rallied against their president, Viktor Yanukovych, were driven by anger against corruption and nepotism in his government. But Putin said the nation’s new government is merely “replacing some cheats with others.”
He denounced the ouster of Yanukovych as an “unconstitutional coup and armed seizure of power.” Putin claimed the radical nationalists wearing swastika-like bands had come to control Kiev, and alleged the snipers who shot and killed scores of people during the protests were provocateurs, not government soldiers.