Putin swiftly claims Crimea for Russian Federation

New York TimesMarch 18, 2014 

  • Developments

    •  First fatality: The Ukrainian military said one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and one injured when armed men stormed a military facility in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital.

    •  Emergency summit: President Barack Obama invited leaders of the Group of 7 nations to meet Monday and Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands.

    •  Reaction to sanctions: The Russian State Duma unanimously passed a resolution condemning U.S. sanctions targeting Russian officials. The chamber challenged Obama to extend the sanctions to all the 353 deputies who voted for Tuesday’s resolution. Eighty-eight deputies left the house before the vote.

    SOURCES: McClatchy, Associated Press

— 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 Russia’s patience for post-Cold War accommodation, much diminished of late, had finally been exhausted. Speaking to the country’s political elite in the Grand Kremlin Palace, he said he did not seek to divide Ukraine any further, but he vowed to protect Russia’s 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. George’s 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. “That’s 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 doesn’t involve you.’ 

The speed of Putin’s 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 Tuesday’s 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 country’s historic empire, effectively daring world leaders to sever political or economic ties and risk the consequences to their own economies.

Putin, the country’s paramount leader for more than 14 years, appeared to be gambling that the outrage would eventually pass, as it did after Russia’s 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 Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

The ministry said Ukrainian forces in Crimea were now authorized to use force to defend themselves.

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