BY: STEVEN LEE MYERS, ELLEN BARRY & ALAN COWELL
President Vladimir V Putin claimed Crimea as a part of Russia on Tuesday, reversing what he described as a historic mistake made by the Soviet Union 60 years ago and brushing aside international condemnation that could leave Russia isolated for years to come.
Within minutes of delivering a passionate speech to Russia’s political elite, Putin cemented his pledge by signing a draft treaty with Crimean leaders to make the strategic Black Sea peninsula part of Russia. The events unfolded two days after Crimeans voted in a disputed referendum to break away from Ukraine. While the treaty signed Tuesday still needs parliamentary approval, that is regarded as a formality.
“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 in the Grand Kremlin Palace 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.
Reaching deep into Russian and Soviet history, Putin said he did not seek to divide Ukraine any further, but vowed that he would protect Russia’s national security from what he described as Western, and particularly American, actions that had left Russia feeling cornered.
He spoke as he has often in the past of the humiliations Russia has suffered in a world with one dominant superpower — from the NATO air war in Kosovo in 1999 against Moscow’s Serbian allies to the one in Libya that toppled Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 on what he called the false pretence of a humanitarian intervention.
He dipped into deep wells of emotion, starting with the 10th century baptism of Prince Vladimir, whose conversion to Orthodox Christianity transformed the kingdom then known as Rus, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left many Russians of his generation feeling that they had been stripped of their nation overnight.
“Millions of Russians went to bed in one country and woke up abroad,” he said. “Overnight, they were minorities in the former Soviet republics, and the Russian people became one of the biggest — if not the biggest — divided nation in the world.
“They cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts,” he said of the West. “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.’ “
Western reaction was swift. The White House condemned the move, which it said it would not recognize. Britain’s foreign continued…