Putin warns West against sanctions

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Vladimir Putin has warned the U.S. and the EU of “consequences’’ if they impose sanctions on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.

“What could trigger the possible use of force? It’s only in an extreme case,’’ he said in Moscow on Tuesday, hours after ordering that military exercises near the border with Ukraine end on Friday.

“As you know, the legitimate president, requested Russia to use military force to save lives and protect the welfare of the local population,’’ Putin added.

Western powers have upped pressure on the Kremlin over Russia’s bloodless takeover of Crimea, which Ukraine’s new leaders want back.

Putin said Russia had no partners in Ukraine until new elections were held, describing Yanukovych’s toppling as “unconstitutional’’.

“Those who are going to introduce sanctions against Russia should think about their consequences, as damage will be mutual,’’ Putin was quoted as saying.

Sources say that his decision to end military drills this week appeared to be designed to allay fears of war in the region that Russia seized after Ukrainian protesters toppled Yanukovych and installed pro-Western interim leaders.

The announcement pushed share prices higher on the Moscow stock exchange.

About 150,000 soldiers taking part in the drills involving airplanes, tanks and ships will return to their bases on March 7, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, said.

Ukraine’s new leaders said Russia’s takeover of Crimea, where the Russian army has bases, is an act of war.

Putin said Russia intervened in the Black Sea peninsula, with its Russian-speaking majority, for “humanitarian reasons’’.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted in November after Yanukovych walked away from a trade agreement with the EU and sought closer ties with Moscow.

U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration was considering diplomatic and economic measures to isolate Russia. The EU threatened to suspend visa liberalisation talks with Russia.

NATO ambassadors were meeting Tuesday for the second time in three days to discuss the crisis.

Poland requested the talks under Article 4 of the military alliance’s charter, which a member state can invoke if it feels threatened.

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