Putin at St. Petersburg Economic Forum Warns Against NATO Expansion, Hits Obama's Use of Force
May 24, 2014 • 11:41AM

At Friday's opening of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin referenced the possible expansion of NATO to Ukraine as one of the key danger flashpoints, while at the same time expressing support for a future elected government in Ukraine. But he stressed making the rebuilding of international trust as a major theme. In answers to questions, Putin also emphasized that without Russian action in Crimea, there would have been many other incidents such as the horrific arson massacre in Odessa.

"The question of restoring trust is vital for the entire economic forum. The urgent problems you have mentioned in relation to Ukraine and Crimea are linked exactly to lack of this trust," the Russian President said, according to Itar-Tass.

"What are the causes behind the Ukraine crisis?" he asked. "It was triggered by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to postpone the signing of an association agreement with the European Union. What followed next was a state coup supported by our US and European partners.... What was next? The next thing was chaos, and now we see a full-scale civil war."

On the intervention in Crimea, Putin said that Russia had created conditions for the Crimean people to express their will freely. "If we had not done that, we would have had bigger tragedies [in Crimea] than we are currently seeing in other Ukrainian cities, including Odessa, where people were burned alive inside a building.... Fifty people burned alive, while 50 went missing. Where are they? In fact, they were also killed," Putin stressed.

On the elections, Putin questioned the conditions for the elections: "Tanks are waging fire there, or journalists were detained and have been kept in Gestapo conditions for the third day. Are these conditions proper for elections?" Yet despite the fact that he questioned the lack of international standards for the elections, Itar-Tass reported that in the interest of "peace" coming to Ukraine, Putin intends to work with the newly-elected structures.

Putin also clearly warned about his concern over NATO expansion, reported Reuters. "Tomorrow Ukraine may join NATO, while the day after tomorrow parts of the U.S. anti-missile system could be deployed there," Putin said.

Putin directly hit at Obama at least twice, according to media reports. In a question about asylum for Edward Snowden, Putin said that the United States is to blame for Snowden ending up in Moscow, and that Russia is not the type of country that hands over fighters for human rights, reported RIA Novosti.

According to RIA Novosti, Putin stated that Snowden "arrived at our transit zone, and later it was explained that no one wanted him.... And they [the Americans] scared everyone, and he ended up in our transit zone. What were we supposed to do? Russia is not the type of country that gives up fighters for human rights. Why did [the Americans] scare the whole world? If they can force planes down with Presidents on board, then they could have forced down anything with Mr. Snowden on board anywhere."

When asked a provocative question by CNBC in a separate interview about Obama's accusations that he "lied" about Ukraine, Putin replied, "Who is he to judge? Who is he to judge, seriously? If he wants to judge people, why doesn't he get a job in court somewhere?" Putin's answer to CNBC brought cheers and clapping from the crowd at the forum, reported CNS, a different news service.