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Ukraine Crisis News Roundup: March 4

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

Putin rants about the situation in Ukraine: In a press conference today in Moscow, Putin said that Russia will not use force in Crimea right now, but left the option open and defended Russia's military presence in Ukraine as a humanitarian effort. He said he does not recognize the current Ukrainian government, that Yanukovych is the legitimate head of state but also that Yanukovych has no political future. "Ukraine's political life was turned into a farce," Putin said, calling the uprisings in Maidan Square "bacchanalia." Julia Ioffe's account of the conference has everything you need to know about what Putin said and how he said it, like the fact that "Putin was nervous, angry, cornered, and paranoid, periodically illuminated by flashes of his own authoritarian dancing uncomfortably in his new dictator shoes, squirming in his throne."

(The RT footage above is in Russian. Here is a video of the conference translated into English.) 

"We will not go to war with the Ukrainian people. If we do take military action, it will only be for the protection of the Ukrainian people," Putin said. Responding to America's condemnation of Russia's actions, he remarked, "They often accuse us of illegitimate actions, but when I ask them if they are always legitimate, they say yes. But I have to remind everyone of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, where they acted without the approval of the UN." 

No war yet, but the crisis continues: Putin ordered all Russian troops participating in military exercises near the Ukrainian border to return to their bases. That does not mean Russia is leaving Ukraine: "The massive military exercise in western Russia involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft was supposed to wrap up anyway," AP reports. Over 16,000 Russian troops remain in Crimea. Russia let the second deadline for its second ultimatum to Ukrainian forces—set for 5 a.m. EET—pass without launching the promised "military storm" across Ukraine.

The Ukrainian and Crimean parliaments met today and Ukrainian politicians agreed to negotiate expanded Crimean autonomy. The Times reports that the Crimean Prime Minister says his autonomous government has secured the peninsula after "a majority of Ukrainian military units on the peninsula had surrendered and pledged allegiance to his pro-Russian government." Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky was appointed to a regional governorship in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk. 

Warning shots fired: Russian forces who now control Belbek airbase in Crimea fired several warning shots after 300 Ukrainian soldiers "who previously manned the airfield, demanded their jobs back," AP reports. The Ukrainian soldiers were marching toward the base unarmed. Time's Simon Shuster reports the Russians have allowed 10 Ukrainian soldiers to retake their positions, but are awaiting further directions from commanders. 

Here is what appears to be a video of the confrontation: 

Gazprom will make Ukraine pay: Starting in April, Gazprom will deny Ukraine a discount on the price of gas. Gazprom head Alexei Miller explained "that Ukraine did "not fulfill the agreements that were reached at the signing of addendum to the contract on granting discounts," and that Ukraine owes $1.5 billion to the company, Isvestia reports. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the move "perfectly legitimate." In his press conference today, Putin said that if Ukraine fails to make up the debt, Gazprom may cut off gas entirely, and it wouldn't be a political move. "It’s just the commercial activity of Gazprom … If they don’t get money on time from Ukrainian partners... it’s a big problem...Of course Gazprom will tell them: ‘Guys, this won’t work," Putin said, according to the Guardian's transcription of his remarks.

The stock market rebounded and the ruble stabilized today. "The mood was noticeably calmer after panic selling on Monday," Reuters reports

Last night, President Obama met with the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Ukraine and a "menu of sanctions" under consideration. Putin advisor Sergei Glazyev responded to the promise of sanctions by saying that Russia would have to abandon the dollar if the Obama administration makes good on its economic threats. "We will have to go into other currencies, create a cash-payment system. We have excellent trade relations with our partners in the East and the South...Trying to announce sanctions against Russia will turn to the collapse of the U.S. financial system," Glazyev said according to RIA Novosti, which clarified that Glazyev was speaking in an informal capacity as an academic, not in his official role. 

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Aid packages will flow in to Ukraine and Crimea: U.S. will give Ukraine a $1 billion "energy aid economic package," which Secretary Kerry announced upon arriving in Kiev today.

Ukraine will also receive $840 million from the E.U. The Ukrainian Parliament ratified the agreement for the loan, first negotiated in February 2013 but left unratified under Yanukovych.

Russia will send billions in aid to Crimea, to the tune of 35 billion rubles (approximately $970 million at the current exchange rate of 36 rubles to the dollar). Russian senators have said they are willing to dedicate half of their salaries to relief efforts in Crimea. 

Rumors that Yanukovych is dead: Last night around 11 p.m. EST, rumors began circulating that Viktor Yanukovych had died of a heart attack at a Russian hospital after Ukrainian journalist and activist Michael Lebed uploaded a Facebook post to that effect. Mutliple Russian news sources reported the rumor, which remains unconfirmed and which Russia has denied. Putin said that Yanukovych is alive in his press conference this morning. 

The Pentagon suspended military cooperation with Russia. "We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, as well as call on the Russian troops in the Crimea back to their bases, according to the agreements governing the Russian Black Sea Fleet," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said late last night, just before Russia's 5 a.m. deadline for Ukraine's surrender. 

Russia Today hacked: The state-controlled news agency said it was hacked overnight. Hackers altered the online headlines so that instances of the word "Russia" or "Russians" were replaced with "Nazi" or "Nazis," internet security analyst Graham Cluley reports. The attack also disrupted RT's broadcast of Putin's press conference. RT anchor Abby Martin broke the company line yesterday when she criticized the Russian incursion (via Mashable). 

Tatar women staged an anti-Russia protest in Crimea yesterday, chanting "No aggession / Women of Crimea stand against war." Here's Radio Svoboda's footage of the crowd:  

The Guardian, Kyiv Post, and all have excellent liveblogs on the situation for futher updates and details.