Putin: No, really, we aren't going to annex Crimea

Vladimir Putin held a press conference near Moscow today to get a few things straightened out with the media and the world. Some people may be under the impression that Russia has invaded Crimea, what with all of the planes and ships landing there disgorging troops, and with the heavy Russian artillery rolling down the road to Sevastopol. Those aren’t Russian forces, Putin insists, but just Crimean boys looking to secure their homeland against coup plotters in Kyiv. No, seriously:

Russian soldiers have not occupied government buildings and surrounded Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Tuesday during a news conference near Moscow at which he gave an account of recent events that contradicts reports from the ground.

Instead, he told reporters that the heavily armed men are “local self-defense forces.”

Well, maybe they’re not all just good Crimean boys defending their homeland:

What’s more, anything Russia has done, Putin said without offering specifics, has been part of a “humanitarian mission” to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea.

But even as he said that no Russian troops have been involved in the latest events in Crimea, Putin drew comparisons that would seem to indicate they had been. “Our actions are often described by the West as not legitimate, but look at U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya,” he said, according to a BBC translation of his comments. “Our actions are legitimate from the point of view of international law, because Ukraine’s legitimate president asked us for help. … Defending these people is in our interests … we do not want to ‘enslave’ anyone.”

You remember “Ukraine’s legitimate president,” yes? He’s the one who had unarmed protesters shot in the street, where 77 or more were killed, and had several opulent palaces with their own private zoos — at least before he fled the country. The request from Viktor Yanukovich to Putin for the assistance came from Rostov-on-Don, the Russian city to which he fled.

Don’t worry, Putin assured the media. Those Russian forces who aren’t in Crimea even though we acted on Yanulovich’s request and are totally focused on humanitarian efforts to imprison Ukrainian military forces will not be the vanguard of an attempt by Moscow to take back Crimea. Trust him!

Russia is not considering trying to make Crimea a part of Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. Only people who live in Crimea can determine their future, he said. …

Putin also said that the shaky new government has destabilized the southern and eastern parts of the country since taking power, and that Yanukovych, who is wanted in Ukraine, did not give orders to shoot demonstrators during the protests that eventually led to his ouster.

Then, turning to the troop buildup in the Russian-dominated autonomous region of Crimea, Putin said Ukraine is a brotherly neighbor of Russia — and that the troops there have much in common. He also said Russian forces have not fired a shot since they crossed into Crimea.

He said any use of military force in Ukraine would be the last resort.

Russian troops have already invaded Crimea, so clearly military force came as a first resort. And it looks like a first resort in other Russian-heavy areas of Ukraine, too:

But if Russian-speaking citizens in the east of Ukraine ask for Russia’s help, Russia has the right “to take all measures to protect the rights of those people,” Putin said.

Military action, he said, would be “completely legitimate” because it was at the request of Yanukovych and in line with Russia’s duty to protect people with historic ties to Russia, both cultural and economic.

This is quite a performance by Putin. It’s difficult to remember the last time a head of state packed so many contradictory and demonstrably false declarations into one appearance. The fact that Putin felt the need to issue a denial at all might be a sign that the accusations from other European leaders might be stinging him a bit, but that’s outweighed by his breezy contradictions of those same denials in the same moment. He’s sending out a blizzard of BS as nothing more than sheer contempt for his opponents.