TODAY   |  March 04, 2014

Putin: I will use force in Ukraine if necessary

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the crisis in Ukraine for the first time, vowing to use force only as a last resort. NBC’s Bill Neely reports.

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>>> but let's get right to our top story. the volatile situation in ukraine . vladimir putin saying this morning, the overthrow amounted to an unconstitutional coup.

>> here at home, the tension overseas caused the dow to plunge on monday. let's get to nbc's bill neely in ukraine in the tumultuous crimea region this morning. what's the situation there?

>> reporter: yeah, savannah, if you thought this was a difficult crisis so far, it's got a lot more complex. russian troops firing warning shots over the heads of ukrainian troops this morning. and russia 's president vladimir putin firing a warning of a different kind saying his troops may not stop here. words laced with menace from president putin . there is no need for further russian military intervention in ukraine , he says. but the possibility still exists. it is a veiled threat. john kerry left washington to fly into a country whose borders are changing. changed by the march of russian troops who have not fired the first shots in their takeover of ukraine . ukrainian troops have marched towards russians at an air base . russian soldiers opened fire in the air warning the ukrainians to stop. they did, but only after at least four volleys of gunfire. a dangerous twist in an invasion the president has condemned.

>> over time , this will be a costly proposition for russia . the strong condemnation it's received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which russia 's on the wrong side of history on this.

>> does russia 's president care? amidst the crisis, russian war games. led by president putin , a display of russian power, the timing deliberate. putin defiant as he re-draws europe's map. the exercises are not over, the takeover of crimea is not, nor is the standoff at ukraine 's military bases .

>> well, in his news conference, vladimir putin also warned the u.s. that economic sanctions would be harmful because they would ultimately backfire. john kerry just about to arrive or maybe just has arrived in kiev, he'll go to moscow next. he'll have his work cut out. back to you in new york.

>> thank you.