With a historic sweep of his pen, President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday to annex Crimea, describing the move as correcting past injustice and a necessary response to what he called Western encroachment upon Russia’s vital interests.
In a 40-minute speech televised live from the Kremlin, Putin said “in people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia”.
He dismissed Western criticism of Sunday’s Crimean referendum — in which residents of the strategic Black Sea peninsula overwhelmingly backed breaking off from Ukraine and joining Russia — as a manifestation of the West’s double standards.
At the same time, Putin said Russia did not want to move into other regions of Ukraine: “We don’t want division of Ukraine.” Thousands of Russian troops have been massed along Ukraine’s eastern border for the last few weeks — Russia says that was for military training while the US and Europe view the troops as an intimidation tactic.
In Paris, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said Russia had been suspended from the G8 because of the Crimean annexation. Russia has the G8’s rotating leadership currently, and Putin was scheduled to host President Barack Obama and other leaders of the group in Sochi in June.
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“Concerning the G8… we decided to suspend Russia’s participation, and it is envisaged that all the other countries, the seven leading countries, will unite without Russia,” Fabius said on Europe-1 radio.
Britain’s foreign Office said Russia was still part of the G8, even though a suspension was not ruled out. British foreign secretary William Hague said Putin had chosen “the route of isolation, denying the citizens of his own country, and of Crimea, partnership with the international community and full membership of a range of international organisations”, and that it was now highly likely that other G8 countries would want to meet without Russia.
Tokyo and Berlin said they were not aware of a decision to suspend Moscow.
In Kiev, the Ukrainian government said it did not recognise the treaty signed in Moscow. “The signing of the so-called agreement on Crimea joining the Russian Federation and the corresponding address by the Russian president has nothing in common with law or democracy or common sense,” foreign ministry spokesman Evhen Perebynis said on Twitter.
“Putin’s address very clearly demonstrates just how real the threat is that Russia poses to international security and international security,” he said.
Speaking at the Kremlin’s white-and-gold St George Hall on the other hand, Putin cast the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian government as illegitimate, driven by radical “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.
He said the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine had been abused by the new Ukrainian government. He insisted that Crimea’s vote to join Russia was in line with international law and reflected its right for self-determination.
To back his claim, Putin pointed to Kosovo’s independence bid from Serbia — supported by the West and opposed by Russia — and said that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine repeats Ukraine’s own secession from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The speech came hours after Putin approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea, and was followed by the Russian president signing a treaty with Crimean officials for the Black Sea region to join Russia.
The treaty will now have to be endorsed by Russia’s constitutional court and ratified by both houses of parliament. Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, said the procedure could be completed by the end of the week.
Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. Both Russians and Crimea’s majority ethnic Russian population see the annexation as correcting a historic insult.
The US and European Union on Monday announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis. President Barack Obama warned that more would come if Russia didn’t stop interfering in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, the Russian state Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, unanimously passed a resolution condemning US sanctions targeting Russian officials including members of the chamber. The chamber challenged Obama to extend the sanctions to all the 353 deputies who voted for Tuesday’s resolution, suggesting that being targeted was a badge of honour. Eighty-eight deputies left the house before the vote.
AP & REUTERS