Yalta: Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to a much-hyped meeting in Crimea amid expectations of more saber-rattling over Ukraine, but he instead struck a conciliatory note and called for peace in a speech on Thursday that received surprisingly brief coverage on Russian television.
Putin`s cautious statements and the terse reports in state media could signal a Kremlin desire to de-escalate the worst crisis in Russia-West relations since the Cold War. Putin`s remarks contrasted with hawkish speeches by senior lawmakers in a carefully choreographed performance apparently intended to contain the nationalist fervor that has become a problem for the Kremlin.
Putin`s show came as a large Russian aid convoy pulled close to the Ukrainian border amid tense arguments over its route and border clearance. Ukraine has threatened to use all means to block it if it`s not duly inspected by Ukrainian border and customs officers and the Red Cross, but Russia sent it toward a rebel-controlled checkpoint instead in a clear show of defiance.
During a meeting with hundreds of lawmakers, Putin spoke with a restraint that contrasted sharply with lawmakers` bellicose speeches.
Referring to a suggestion by firebrand nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky that the Kremlin should take as an example the czar`s decision to enter World War I and test new Russian weapons on Ukrainian forces, Putin said that "Russia should learn from mistakes."
Contrary to the long-established pattern of broadcasting key Putin`s speeches live and covering them prominently in every news program throughout the day, Russian state television stations had no live feed from Yalta and buried the event deep in their programs, only showing Putin with a voiceover.
Other television crews in Crimea were not allowed into the room to film it, even though the meeting had been advertised as a major political event.
There was no explanation for the unprecedented brevity of the media coverage, but it could reflect Kremlin efforts to tone down rhetoric and soothe passions over Ukraine.
Russian state media have for weeks clamored over a "fascist junta" in Kiev and purported atrocities committed by Ukrainian troops in their campaign against pro-Russian rebels in the east, whipping up rage among ordinary Russians. In a seeming response to the public`s indignation, Russian lawmakers who met Putin at a giant conference hall in the resort town of Yalta called for blood.