MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin says Russia is ready to use all means to protect Russians in Ukraine, but hopes he will not have to use force in eastern Ukraine.

Putin says while the Ukrainian parliament is legitimate, the acting president is not. He said that fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) is the only legitimate leader of Ukraine.

Putin rejects Western criticism of Russian action in Ukraine, saying that there have been doubts about the legitimacy of Western action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Today was the first time Putin has spoken publicly since Yanukovych fled Kiev.

Russia's state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom says it will cancel a price discount for natural gas supplies to Ukraine.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said today in televised remarks that Ukraine has accumulated a $1.5-billion debt for Russian gas supplies. He said at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that Gazprom will cancel a price rebate for Ukraine starting April 1.

Russia offered the discounted price and a $15-billion bailout to Ukraine in December following President Viktor Yanukovych's (yah-noo-KOH'-vih-chez) decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.