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Putin: No Russian Troops in Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russians during a televised call-in show Thursday that he hopes he will not have to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, while blaming the Ukrainian government for unrest in those areas.

Mr. Putin harshly criticized Ukraine and its western allies and expressed hope that four-party talks in Geneva will reach a diplomatic solution to Ukraine's problems. But he also said he hopes he does not have to use his "right" to send Russian troops to help quell unrest in the east.

At present, he said, there are no Russian units in eastern Ukraine. He said the protesters there are all local citizens.

He maintained a tough stance on Russia's gas trade with Ukraine, warning that Russia may begin demanding payment for gas in advance. Russia hiked the price of gas to Ukraine by 80 percent after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who sought asylum in Russia after stepping down and fleeing Ukraine in February.

Former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia last year, asked Mr. Putin via video link if Russia listens in on the telephone conversations of its citizens. Snowden leaked to journalists last year documents showing the United States government had been eavesdropping on and keeping records of phone calls. Mr. Putin said Russia does bug telephones to fight crime, but not on as large a scale as the U.S.