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Putin says hopes will not have to use force in eastern Ukraine

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Thursday did not rule out sending Russian troops into eastern Ukraine but said he hoped he would not need to, and that diplomacy would serve to resolve the crisis there.

In a televised call-in with the nation, Putin said Russia "would do everything possible" to help the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, where separatist rebellions have broken out.

But in a sign Russia is invested in international crisis talks being held in Geneva, Putin said that it was an illusion that force can solve all problems in international affairs.

"The Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine. I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today's pressing issues via political and diplomatic means," Putin said.

"We must do everything to help these people (in eastern Ukraine) defend their rights and independently determine their own destiny. This is what we're going to push for."

Putin also said world powers should work out a new international mechanism for resolving problems, suggesting that in a unipolar world led by the United States there was little to restrain actors from using force.

"When there is a balance of power, then there is a desire to negotiate," Putin said.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Polina Devitt and Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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