Media see new phase in Putin's Ukraine campaign

Ukrainian front pages Image copyright BBC/ other
Image caption Ukrainian dailies: Ukrayina Moloda (bottom left) "Confessions of a mad aggressor", Den (r) "Belbek, we're proud of you!"

The press in both Russia and Ukraine interpret President Vladimir Putin's press conference as a new approach by the Kremlin in dealing with its neighbour.

In his first public comments on the Ukrainian crisis, Mr Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow reserved the right to act to protect Russian citizens and speakers anywhere in Ukraine, but added that military action was "a last resort".

Ukrainian newspapers say that the threat of war has been averted, but warn that Russia may now attempt a plan of "creeping federalisation" to split the country.

Most of the major Russian dailies adopt a staunch pro-government stance, praising President Putin as a "man in control" who has clearly outlined his "negotiating positions" to the West and Ukraine.

"Master of the situation"

Russian pundits dwell not so much on the messages relayed by Mr Putin but rather on the political and personal qualities that they feel he displayed during the news conference.

Izvestiya daily notes that the president was "calm and confident" and "clearly answered all questions" asked by journalists.

"By not going to war, Putin proved himself as a statesman, not just as a tactician," says an editorial in Vedomosti, adding that a crisis in relations with a neighbour "is a maturity test for every head of state".

Writing in Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Mikhail Rostovsky says that "having faced such a heavy flow of threats from almost all Western leaders" Mr Putin did not look like a "frightened politician" but behaved like it was "water off a duck's back".

"Vladimir Putin communicated indirectly with his G8 colleagues… and defined his negotiating positions," says the article.

Image copyright BBC / other
Image caption Popular Moscow daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets (bottom left) says "Putin not ready to retreat, but to come to an agreement - maybe"

"The president feels the master of the situation," exclaims Nikolai Petrov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He argues that Mr Putin's position is "strengthened by the fact that the new Ukrainian authorities are not in control of Eastern Ukraine… and also by the fact that the West cannot quickly provide the money that Kiev desperately needs". That is why "with each passing day Kiev is pushed towards making concessions to Putin," concludes the pundit.

"Putin made his move. It's the turn of Ukraine and the West to respond," another political analyst, Igor Bunin, tells Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Creeping federalisation"

"Confessions of a mad aggressor" is how the main headline in Ukrainian daily Ukrayina Moloda describes the news conference by President Putin.

Image copyright Ukrayina Moloda / other

A cartoon on its front page shows the Russian president sporting an "I love Ukraine" badge. He is wearing a nappy, with an olive branch in one hand and a toy tank in the other. "While listening to the leader of one of the biggest and most powerful countries of the world, one starts worrying not only about Ukraine, but also about the entire world," the paper comments.

Ukrainian commentators are sceptical about Mr Putin's claims that he will not yet resort to the use of force.

"There will be no military aggression, but he will not give up on Crimea," Vadym Karasyov tells Kommersant Ukraina. He predicts that Crimea "will remain part of Ukraine but will be turned into Ukraine's Dniester region". The mainly Russian-speaking Trans-Dniester region proclaimed independence from Moldova in 1990 and Russian troops now have a heavy presence there.

The front page of the daily Den carries a picture of soldiers putting up a Ukrainian flag in defiance at Belbek airport in Crimea, apparently surrounded by Russian troops with machine guns. "We are proud of you" is the main headline. "Restraint and patriotism displayed by the Ukrainian military marked a turning point in the Crimean situation," says the paper, while warning that "it is too early to relax".

Den also quotes pundit Olena Hetmanchuk as saying that Vladimir Putin's seemingly peaceful tone "is a tactical defeat".

"We should brace ourselves for a long exhausting war which will not be waged with the help of tanks. This news conference marked the start of a new phase of Putin's diplomatic and PR war," she argues.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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