Putting his personal seal on the annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir V Putin of Russia arrived in the naval port of Sevastopol on Friday, where he used the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany to assert that Moscow had the right to take over the Black Sea peninsula.
Over the past decade, Putin has gradually turned Victory Day into a celebration of resurgent Russian power and nationalism. The visit to Sevastopol, in southwestern Crimea, the historical home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was a potent manifestation of his goal of reviving Russia as a global power.
In his speech on a naval quay, Putin, as he did at a ceremony in Red Square earlier in the day, stuck to the patriotic themes of the day – strength, heroism, struggle and resilience.
Speaking for less than four minutes, he ran through Sevastopol’s history: its naming by Catherine the Great 230 years ago; the 225 days of bloody Nazi occupation the city endured; and its vote to rejoin Russia in March.
“I think 2014 will also be an important year in the annals of Sevastopol and our whole country, as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, and thus confirmed their faith in the historic memory of our forefathers,” Putin said in remarks broadcast nationwide.
“There is a lot of work ahead, but we will overcome all the difficulties because we are together, and that means we have become even stronger,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine immediately issued a statement protesting the visit. It accused Putin of ignoring international law, the demands of the international community that Russia not occupy Crimea and a treaty between Russia and Ukraine that calls on both countries to respect their mutual borders.
“This provocation once again confirms that Russia deliberately chooses to escalate tensions in Russian-Ukrainian relations,” said the statement. “We urge the Russian side to return to civilized methods of interstate relations.”
The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, condemned Putin’s visit as “inappropriate.”
Violence marred the holiday in southeastern Ukraine, where armed clashes broke out before noon over control of the police station in the city of Mariupol. The Ukrainian news service Ukrainska Pravda, citing hospital workers, said three people had been killed and four injured in fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian security forces.