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By Alexei Anishchuk
LAKE SELIGER, Russia Aug 29 President Vladimir
Putin said on Friday Russia's armed forces, backed by its
nuclear arsenal, were ready to meet any aggression, declaring at
a pro-Kremlin youth camp that foreign states should understand:
"It's best not to mess with us."
Putin told the assembly, on the banks of a lake near Moscow,
the Russian takeover of Crimea in March was essential to save a
largely Russian-speaking population from Ukrainian government
violence. He said continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, where
pro-Russian separatists launched an uprising in April, was the
result of a refusal by Kiev to negotiate.
Ukraine, and Western governments, accuse Russia of sending
troops and armour to back the separatists in a conflict that has
already killed over 2,000 people. Russia denies the charge.
"Russia is far from being involved in any large-scale
conflicts," he said at the camp on the banks of Lake Seliger.
"We don't want that and don't plan on it. But naturally, we
should always be ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.
"Russia's partners...should understand it's best not to mess
with us," said Putin, dressed casually in a grey sweater and
light blue jeans.
"Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a
large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that
Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers."
Putin spoke easily with the students, many of whom looked to
be asking scripted questions about demography and history. Other
times he accepted gifts or, smilingly, played down their praise.
When a student said that she had not heard a single negative
comment about Putin's presidency from camp speakers, he
responded with a grin that "objectivity" was important.
His tone darkened when speaking on Ukraine, blaming the
United States and the European Union for the "unconstitutional"
removal of Kiev's former Moscow-backed president Viktor
Yanukovich and replacement with a pro-European government.
He said eastern Ukraine did not agree with Yanukovich's
removal and was now subjected to "crude military force" from
government planes, tanks and artillery.
"If those are contemporary European values, then I'm simply
disappointed in the highest degree," he said, comparing
Ukraine's military operations in the east of the country with
the Nazi siege of Leningrad in World War Two.
"Small villages and large cities surrounded by the Ukrainian
army which is directly hitting residential areas with the aim of
destroying the infrastructure... It sadly reminds me of the
events of the Second World War, when German fascist... occupiers
surrounded our cities."
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Thomas Grove;
editing by Ralph Boulton)