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MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Thursday explained his decision to rescue Ukraine with a $15 billion bailout and discounts on natural gas as a gesture of goodwill, given the close historic ties between the two countries.

“I will be very frank with you and don’t take it as an irony — we very often use the term ‘brother nation’ or ‘sister nation,’ ” Putin said at his annual news conference.

“We see the current situation, both political and economical, is quite difficult,” Putin said. “So if we say it is a sister nation, we should do what family members do. We should support our sister nation when in dire straits. This is the number one reason why this decision was taken.”

Putin’s announcement of the loan and gas deal Tuesday threw a lifeline to Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has been facing a severe and deepening economic crisis and more than three weeks of civil unrest from protesters who have occupied Independence Square and seized control of several public buildings in Kiev, the capital.

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The loan from Russia, using money from its national welfare fund, spares Yanukovych — at least for the moment — from further negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which, in exchange for its own aid package, had demanded systemic economic reforms, including some tough austerity measures.

Putin’s move to offer assistance was a bold and risky step. The rules for investing money from the Russian national welfare fund require long-term bond ratings of at least AA while Ukraine’s current rating from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s is B minus with a negative outlook.

But the bailout also highlighted Russia’s economic and strategic interests in Ukraine and Putin’s resolve in keeping Ukraine within the Russian sphere of influence.

Russia maneuvered aggressively to dissuade Yanukovych from signing far-reaching political and trade agreements with the European Union and, by offering the bailout package, Putin ensured that Yanukovych would not revive those accords anytime soon.

To Putin’s evident glee, his steps left European officials stunned and scrambling for a response.

In about a month, Putin will play host to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which he seems clearly to view as integral to his legacy as Russia’s pre-eminent leader of the 21st century. Ahead of the Olympics, Russia has come under criticism for its human-rights record and for some new legislation, including a law banning propaganda on nontraditional relationships that is widely viewed in the West as an effort to suppress homosexuality.

In response to a question about what seems to be a clash of cultures between Russia and the West, Putin said that Russia was merely defending its values and traditions, and he suggested the West was trying to impose its views on others.

“It is not about criticizing somebody,” Putin said. “It is about protecting us from aggressive behavior on the part of some social groups, which I believe do not just live in a way they like, but they try to aggressively impose their opinion on other people and other countries.”

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