MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin reclaimed Crimea as a part of Russia on Tuesday, reversing what he described as a historic injustice made by the Soviet Union 60 years ago and brushing aside international condemnation that could leave Russia isolated for years to come.
In an emotional address steeped in years of resentment and bitterness at perceived slights from the West, Putin made it clear that Russias patience for post-Cold War accommodation, much diminished of late, had finally been exhausted. Speaking to the countrys political elite in the Grand Kremlin Palace, he said he did not seek to divide Ukraine any further, but he vowed to protect Russias interests there from what he described as Western actions that had left Russia feeling cornered.
Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people, Putin declared in his address, delivered in the chandeliered St. Georges Hall before hundreds of members of Parliament, governors and others. His remarks, which lasted 47 minutes, were interrupted repeatedly by thunderous applause, standing ovations and at the end chants of Russia, Russia. Some in the audience wiped tears from their eyes.
A theme coursing throughout his remarks was the restoration of Russia after a period of humiliation following the Soviet collapse, which he had famously described as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.
He denounced what he called the global domination of one superpower and its allies that emerged.
They cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts, he said. Thats the way it was with the expansion of NATO in the East, with the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They always told us the same thing: Well, this doesnt involve you.
The speed of Putins annexation of Crimea, redrawing an international border that has been recognized as part of an independent Ukraine for 23 years, has been breathtaking and, so far, apparently unstoppable.
While his actions provoked renewed denunciations and threats of tougher sanctions and diplomatic isolation, it remained unclear how far the West was willing to go to punish Putin. The United States, Europe and Ukraine vowed never to recognize what Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Poland, denounced as nothing more than a land grab. The leaders of what had been the Group of 8 nations announced they would meet next week as the Group of 7, excluding Russia from a club Russia once desperately wanted to join.
Putin unfazed by sanctions
Certainly the sanctions imposed on Russia ahead of Tuesdays steps did nothing to dissuade Putin, as he rushed to make a claim to Crimea that he argued conformed to international law and precedent. In his remarks he made clear that Russia was prepared to withstand worse punishment in the name of restoring a lost part of the countrys historic empire, effectively daring world leaders to sever political or economic ties and risk the consequences to their own economies.
Putin, the countrys paramount leader for more than 14 years, appeared to be gambling that the outrage would eventually pass, as it did after Russias war with Georgia in 2008, because a newly assertive Russia would be simply too important to ignore on the world stage. As with any gamble, though, the annexation of Crimea carries potentially grave risks.
Ukrainian soldier killed
Only hours after Putin declared that not a single shot had been fired in the military intervention in Crimea, a group of soldiers opened fire as they stormed a Ukrainian military mapping office near Simferopol, killing a Ukrainian soldier and wounding another, according to a Ukrainian officer inside the base and a statement by Ukraines Defense Ministry.
The ministry said Ukrainian forces in Crimea were now authorized to use force to defend themselves.