MOSCOW (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin believes President Barack Obama would save him if he was drowning.
Putin made the comment Thursday during a 4-hour interview on Russian television.
“I think Obama is a courageous and good person and he would for sure save me,” Putin told Russia Today, adding that he doesn’t think he has a close relationship with the president.
Putin also dismissed claims that Russian special forces are fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine as “nonsense” during the interview.
Putin said that people in eastern Ukraine have risen against the authorities in Kiev who ignored their rights and legitimate demands.
A wave of protests, which Ukraine and the West said was organized by Russia and involved Russian special forces, have swept eastern Ukraine over the past weeks, with gunmen seizing government offices and police stations in at least 10 cities.
“It’s all nonsense, there are no special units, special forces or instructors there,” Putin said.
At the same time, he recognized for the first time that soldiers in unmarked uniforms who swept Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea laying the ground for its annexation by Moscow last month were Russian troops.
Putin, who previously said the troops were local self-defense forces, said the Russian soldiers’ presence was necessary to protect the local population and ensure holding a referendum, in which an overwhelming majority of its residents voted for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s east who have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities said Friday they will only leave them if the interim government in Kiev resigns.
Denis Pushilin, a spokesman of the self-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters the insurgents do not recognize the Ukrainian government as legitimate.
Ukraine and Russia, with the United States and European Union taking part in the negotiations taking place in Geneva, agreed Thursday on tentative steps toward calming tensions along the shared Ukraine-Russia border after more than a month of bloodshed.
But Pushilin, speaking at the insurgent-occupied regional administration’s building in Donetsk, said the deal specifies that all illegally seized buildings should be vacated and in his opinion, the government in Kiev is also occupying public buildings illegally.
“This is a reasonable agreement, but everyone should vacate the buildings, and that includes Yatsenyuk and Turchynov,” he said, referring to the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president.
The deal calls for disarming all paramilitary groups and the immediate return of all government buildings seized by pro-Russian militia. But none of the government buildings seized across eastern Ukraine has yet been vacated, according to local media.
The Ukrainian government as well as the Right Sector movement, whose activists are occupying Kiev’s city hall and a cultural center in the capital, have not commented on the call for buildings in Kiev to be vacated.
Pushilin on Friday reiterated the insurgents’ call for a referendum he said would enable “self-determination of the people.”
The Russian foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the parliament Friday morning that the government has drafted a law that would offer amnesty to all those who will be willing to lay down their arms and leave the occupied government buildings.
The Reuters news agency quotes Ukraine security officials as saying Friday that Ukraine’s military-led push to drive out pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east will go on despite the accord reached in Geneva.
On Thursday, thousands gathered at peaceful demonstrations in at least four eastern cities to denounce Russia for its perceived meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
Political developments in eastern Ukraine have for weeks been dominated by a small but vocal and armed opposition to the interim government in Kiev.
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