Putin says he's convinced solution to Ukraine crisis possible

Sun Nov 16, 2014 6:05pm EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN Nov 16 (Reuters) - Russia President Vladimir Putin said in a German television interview on Sunday that he is convinced it should be possible to find a way to resolve the crisis in Ukraine but added he was concerned about the threat of ethnic cleansing.

In the 30-minute landmark interview broadcast to a prime time audience, Putin defended Russia's annexation of the Crimea but also appealed to the hearts and minds of German viewers by saying relations between the two nations had never been better and saying it would be a shame to throw that away.

"Can one find a way out of this situation? Yes, I'm convinced there is a way," Putin said after criticising the Ukraine government for using force, rather than dialogue, against its adversaries in the east to trigger the crisis.

"I'll say this bluntly: we're very concerned that the desire could arise to use ethnic cleansing. We're afraid about a drift towards neo-Nazism. There are people with swastikas on their sleeves running around and armed forces with SS symbols on the helmets... That's why we fear there's a drift in that direction. It would be a disaster for the people in Ukraine."

Putin, who was once a KGB spy in Communist East Germany and speaks German fluently, was wearing a checkered dress shirt, dark jacket and grey trousers. German network ARD said the interview was conducted in Vladivostok on Thursday.

Putin, who spoke almost entirely in Russian and said he had made mistakes, believes Ukraine has a bright future, although it needs a framework so that all its minorities feel at home.

"It's a great nation with great people," he said. "But, you know, there's just one thing missing: an understanding that to be successful, stable and grow, everyone needs to have a feeling that this is their home no matter what language they speak - whether it's Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish."

Putin said the annexation of Crimea was legitimate under international law and democratic because both the regional parliament and the people voted for it in a referendum. He said Russian troops were deployed to prevent bloodshed and added he was surprised by the reaction in the West.   Continued...