Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. Picture: Alexei Nikolskiy/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied that Russian forces were operating in Crimea, saying that only “local forces of self-defence” were surrounding Ukrainian military bases in the region.

Asked if Russian forces took part in operations in Crimea he said, “No, they did not participate,” adding: “There are lots of uniforms that look similar.”

Ukraine's new authorities have said that several thousand Russian troops have poured into Crimea over the last days, in claims backed by Western officials.

However Putin portrayed the events that has seen armed men in unmarked uniforms seize several Ukrainian army bases in Crimea as an uprising by locals worried about the new authorities in Kiev.

Asked why the men are so well-equipped, Putin said that protesters in Kiev were also well equipped and worked “like clockwork”.

“They worked... like special forces,” he said. “Why should they not work as well in Crimea?”

“The Crimeans are very worried. For this reason they formed committees of self-defence and taken all armed forces under control.”

“Thank God that this was done without a single shot and everything is in the hands of the Crimean people.” - AFP