Speaking to participants of this year's St. Petersburg International Forum (SPIEF) Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine is on the verge of a "dangerous civil war," and described a timid, friendly, peace-loving Kremlin that just wants peace in Ukraine. And also all that money Kiev owes it.
After Putin delivered an address to the assembled crowd, panel moderator Geoff Cutmore asked Putin a number of questions about his relationship with the neighboring country. Putin, per usual, said that he only wants peace and stability in the neighboring region and that Russia is not to blame for the crisis. He added that if Russia hadn't annexed Crimea, the region would have seen much more violence.
When Cutmore asked Putin to respond to allegations that his desire to retain control of Ukraine stemmed from colonial nostalgia, the Russian president said that he has strictly business interest in Ukraine. And now, to move the relationship forward, Putin wants his Ukrainian money.
Putin to Ukraine: "Where is our money?" pic.twitter.com/Z5EgfWrQrg— Benjamin Pauker (@benpauker) May 23, 2014
Putin contends that Ukraine owes Russia $3.5 billion, a daunting sum for the economically faltering country.
Putin started losing his cool when Cutmore brought up Washington's contention that Russia is lying about their involvement in Ukraine. "Who is he to judge, seriously?" the flustered leader said of President Barack Obama, adding, "If he wants to judge people why doesn't he get a job in court somewhere." Harsh, Putin.
Daaaayuuum - Putin said Obama needs to get a job— reggie lee (@redgehomes) May 23, 2014
Putin regained his composure later on, saying that cooperation between the two countries hadn't truly lapsed and that U.S.-Russian ties remain intact.
The Russian leader also tried to skirt the question of whether he thinks the upcoming Ukrainian elections are legitimate. "Oh come on, really," he said in response, adding "[Viktor] Yanukovych remains president," before eventually saying that he will cooperate with the newly elected leader.
He also made a weird allusion to "two Jews and a Ukrainian" when discussing the members of his inner circle who have been targeted for sanctions by the West.
Putin quip of the day 'When issuing sanctions, they (The West) chose two Jews and a Ukrainian. They are my comrades and patriots. ' #SPIEF— Jason Corcoran (@jason_corcoran) May 23, 2014
Did Putin really just pull the "my best friends are Jews and Ukrainians" card, smh.— Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) May 23, 2014
Putin spoke to a largely sympathetic audience, as many Western leaders opted to boycott the event. (He received healthy applause after all of his answers.) Meanwhile, separatists and pro-Ukraine forces continue to clash in Donetsk, leaving at least two dead. The Ukrainian presidential election will be held on Sunday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.