putin & obama*(Via Reuters/MSN) – Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.

After an hour-long telephone call, Putin said in a statement that Moscow and Washington were still far apart on the situation in the former Soviet republic, where he said the new authorities had taken “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” Putin said.

The most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia. The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.

European Union leaders and Obama denounced the proposed referendum as illegitimate, saying it would violate Ukraine’s constitution.

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