Finally, Putin Admits Russia May Invade Ukraine — And Concedes That, Yeah, His Troops Were in Crimea

Two days after the announcement of Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation", Moscow gave the first sign that it might be considering military action, warning that Russia might invade southeast Ukraine to protect the locals. The statement came just as President Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time that his troops had moved into Crimea even before the March referendum — and even after months of publicly denying that very fact.

During a televised address on Thursday, Putin emphasized that though he hoped the current situation in the east (where pro-Russian militants have taken over several cities) could be dealt with via diplomatic means, he also hadn't ruled out military action. “We know quite well that we must do our best to protect their rights and help them independently decide their fate and we will struggle for that,” Putin said. “I remind you that the Federation Council of Russia empowered the president to use the armed forces in Ukraine.”

But he added: "I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right, and that through political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve the most acute problems in Ukraine today."

The warning came just as clashes in Ukraine injured 13 pro-Russian activists and left another three dead, and Putin criticized the Ukrainian government for their handling of the situation."Instead of realizing that something has gone wrong in Ukraine and making attempts to start dialogue, they have intensified their threats to use force and have even decided to send tanks and aircraft against the civilian population," he said.

"It is another very serious crime on the part of the current Kiev authorities," he added.

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In a pot-and-kettle situation, the Russian President also admitted for the very first time on Thursday that Russian troops had in fact been deployed in Crimea even before its annexation. It's quite a change of tune: for months, Putin had been holding fast to his initial claim that the green-clad solders in Crimea had nothing to do with Russia, in spite of their familiar-looking uniforms.

“Of course our servicemen stood behind the defense forces of Crimea. They acted with great restraint,” Putin said on Thursday. “Otherwise it was simply impossible to hold the referendum openly, honestly and with dignity and to help the people to express their opinion. You should bear in mind that there were over 20,000 [Ukrainian] well-armed servicemen in Crimea.”

He denied, though, that the men in green uniforms currently protesting in Ukraine have anything to do with Russia. “Those are local residents,” he said.

Maybe we'll wait a couple of months and then see.