Putin: “Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia”

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday signed a treaty to annex Crimea – a move that the United States and European Union stressed violates international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty. 

Read more: Crimea moves to secede from Ukraine, U.S. & EU impose sanction against Russian officials

“Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia”, Putin declared. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride.”

Putin said he acted at the behest of the people in Crimea, citing the results of Sunday’s referendum.

“More than 82 percent of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96 percent of them spoke out in favor of reuniting with Russia. These numbers speak for themselves,” said Putin.

The referendum, however, took place after Russian mobilized thousands of troops in Crimea following the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Independent international observers were not allowed to monitor the polling.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the Crimea referendum was illegal, saying that it violated Ukraine’s Constitution and territorial integrity and expressed doubt that the results even reflected the “free will” of the people in Crimea.

“There remain serious reservations about the expressed free will of the population of this region of Ukraine because since February 26, 2014 the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have de facto occupied Crimea,” according to the ministry’s statement. “The declaration of independence by the “Crimean Republic” is a direct consequence of the application of the use of force and threats against Ukraine by the Russian Federation, and in view of Russia’s nuclear power status, has a particularly dangerous character for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity as well as for international peace and security in general.”

The United States condemned Putin’s move to annex Crimea.

“Such action is a threat to international peace and security, and it is against international law.  We would not recognize this attempted annexation,” said White House Spokesman Jay Carney. “We will make sure that there are costs to Russia for the actions that Russia has taken.  And the assessments as to what costs Russia’s leaders are willing to pay on behalf of their nation and at the expense of the Russian people are ones that they will have to make.  But they are real.”

Carney indicated that there will be more sanctions – perhaps doled out in piece meals – to come. He said the White House is working with Congress to approve an aid package for Ukraine, and the administration will support an IMF bailout package to prevent Ukraine from default.

President Barack Obama will convene a G-7 meeting with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union in Hague to discuss further steps on how to help Ukraine and respond to Russia’s actions.

“The President is focused on working to build and sustain the consensus that exists in opposition to these actions, and to ensure that we collectively, both here in the United States and in Europe and Asia, are working to support Ukraine and to make it clear that these kinds of actions will not be accepted by the international community,” said Carney.

Russia’s natural gas supply

Vice President Joe Biden met with the Presidents of Poland and Estonia to discuss the latest developments in Crimea.

One of the reasons why the European Union and the U.S. response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been cautious – some may argue, weak – is because Russia supplies much of the natural gas used for heating in Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Estonia, and Germany.

Read more: S&P downgrades Ukraine’s credit rating, warns country may default due to political turmoil

For Ukraine, any disruption in natural gas supplies or sudden spikes in gas prices by Russia would cripple its economy, which is already on the verge of default. Given that Ukraine’s energy supply is almost wholly dependent on Russia, Biden’s discussion with Poland’s President and Prime Minister  touched on whether Poland can reverse natural gas flows in its pipelines to give Ukraine some backup supplies.

Biden also urged Europe countries to diversify their energy sources and supplies “ensure that no nation can use the supply of gas as a political weapon against any other nation” – referring to Russia.

Ukrainian troops in Crimea under fire

A Ukrainian soldier was shot and killed yesterday when his base in Simferopol was stormed by pro-Russian forces. Kyiv Post reported that the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol was stormed by pro-Russian civilians followed by armed forces.

“See what they do? They ram the gate, then move forward women and civilian men, and then the Russian soldiers go,” Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman of Ministry of Defense in Crimea told the Kyiv Post. “How can the soldiers shoot at women?!”

In response to the heightened tension in the area, the United States and Poland will be stepping up rotations of “ground and naval forces to participate in training exercises and training missions” to strengthen the Baltic fleet.


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