Russian President Vladimir Putin has been spelling out his position on the crisis in Ukraine. He told a news conference that the ousting of Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich was an unconstitutional coup, and an armed seizure of power. Even so, he said force would only be used by Russia as a last resort.

In a measured first response to the crisis, Putin warned that any sanctions against Russia would backfire and any threats would be counterproductive and harmful.

Russia has been carefully extending its influence abroad. In 2008, it went to war with Georgia over two breakaway regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia are now virtual sections of Russia.

Russia has also been re-positioning itself strategically, regarded by its allies as a symbol of resistance against the West. It is becoming an influential member of the negotiating team with Iran and a pivotal player on Syria - using its UN veto to thwart resolutions against Bashar al Assad's government.

And President Putin has backed the presidential bid by Egypt's military leader, Field Marshall Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, something Barack Obama has yet to do.

So is Russia simply defending its citizens in Ukraine or asserting its dominance on the global stage. And is Putin's response part of broader international ambitions?

Presenter: Mike Hannah

Vyacheslav Matuzov, a political commentator and a former Russian diplomat in Washington.

Ben Judah, a visiting fellow at the European Stability Initiative, and author of the book: Fragile Empire: How Russia fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin.

Peter Zalmayev, director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative - which seeks to promote understanding of the former Soviet region in the West.

Source: Al Jazeera