Putin to use force in Ukraine as ‘last resort’

He denied that Russian armed forces were directly engaged in the bloodless seizure of Crimea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended his actions in Crimea and said he would use force in Ukraine only as a last resort.

The comments came as he denied that Russian armed forces were directly engaged in the bloodless seizure of Crimea, saying the uniformed troops without national insignia were "local self-defense forces".

"As for bringing in forces, for now there is no such need, but such a possibility exists," Putin said, according to Reuters news agency.

"What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort. Absolutely the last."

His comments however did not ease tensions on the ground, as Russian forces fired warning shots in a confrontation with Ukrainian servicemen at an air base.

Also, Russian navy ships were reported to have blockaded the strait separating the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula from Russia, according to Reuters.

Putin was speaking at his first news conference since the crisis in Ukraine began and led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Victor Yanukovich last month.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine but said that did not give Putin the right to intervene militarily.

"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations," Obama said. "But I don't think that's fooling anybody."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on his first visit to Kiev since the overthrow of Yanukovich, accused Moscow of seeking a pretext to invade more of the country.

Kerry laid flowers in Independence Square at a memorial to pro-Western protesters killed by police last month, describing the experience as "moving, distressing and inspiring." He met Ukraine's interim leaders and announced a $1 billion economic package and technical assistance for the new government.

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