By Vladimir Isachenkov
MOSCOW – With a sweep of his pen, President Vladimir Putin added Crimea to the map of Russia on Tuesday, describing the move as correcting past injustice and responding to what he called Western encroachment upon Russia’s vital interests.
While his actions were met with cheers in Crimea and Russia, Ukraine’s new government called Putin a threat to the whole world and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned that the U.S. and Europe will impose further sanctions against Moscow.
“The world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic,” Biden said as he met with anxious European leaders in Poland.
In an emotional 40-minute speech televised live from the Kremlin’s white-and-gold St. George hall, the Russian leader said he was merely restoring order to history by incorporating Crimea.
“In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia,” he declared.
He dismissed Western criticism of Sunday’s Crimean referendum — in which residents of the strategic Black Sea peninsula overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine and joining Russia — as a manifestation of the West’s double standards. Often interrupted by applause, Putin said the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine had been abused by the new Ukrainian government and insisted that Crimea’s vote to join Russia was in line with international law and reflected its right for self-determination.
Putin said his actions followed what he described as Western arrogance, hypocrisy and pressure, and warned that the West must drop its stubborn refusal to take Russian concerns into account.
“If you push a spring too hard at some point it will spring back,” he said, addressing the West. “You always need to remember this.”
While Putin boasted that the Russian takeover of Crimea was conducted without a single shot, a Ukrainian military spokesman said that one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and another injured when a military facility in Crimea was stormed Tuesday by armed men just hours after Putin’s speech.
Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954, a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet breakup. Both Russians and Crimea’s majority ethnic Russian population see annexation as correcting a historic insult. Putin argued that today’s Ukraine included “regions of Russia’s historic south” and was created on a whim by the Bolsheviks.
But despite the massing of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, Putin insisted his nation had no intentions of invading other regions in Ukraine.
“We don’t want a division of Ukraine, we don’t need that,” he said.
Russia says its troops were on the border just for military training but the U.S. and Europe have called them an intimidation tactic.
Ukraine’s political turmoil has become Europe’s most severe security crisis since the Balkan wars of the early 1990s and the issue of what NATO does about Ukraine is crucial. Ukrainian officials met with NATO in Brussels on Monday, asking for some technical equipment.
“If Ukraine goes to NATO or the EU, Putin will do everything so that it goes there without the east and south,” said Vadim Karasyov, a Kiev-based political analyst. “Putin basically told the West that Russia has the right to veto the way Ukraine will develop. And if not, then Crimea is only a precedent of how pieces of Ukraine can be chopped off one by one.”