Putin signs treaty on making Crimea part of Russia

Ukrainian peninsula always part of Russia in ‘hearts and minds’ of people, president says

Russian President Vladimir Putin drew a standing ovation at the Kremlin on Tuesday (Mar 18). Telling the audience that Crimea was of vital importance to Russia, and said a referendum in which Crimea backed union with Russia was legitimate.

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 15:29

President Vladimir Putin, defying Ukrainian protests and Western sanctions, signed a treaty today making Crimea part of Russia but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

In a fiercely patriotic address to a joint session of parliament in the Kremlin, punctuated by standing ovations, cheering and tears, Mr Putin said Crimea’s disputed referendum vote on Sunday, held under Russian military occupation, had shown the overwhelming will of the people to be reunited with Russia.

To the Russian national anthem, Mr Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty on making Crimea part of Russia, declaring: “In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia.”

Parliament was expected to begin ratifying the document within days.

The speech drew immediate hostile reaction in Kiev and the West. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it did not recognise the pact, which showed how Russia posed a threat to international security.

US vice president Joe Biden, on a visit to Poland, called Moscow’s action a land grab and stressed Washington’s commitment to defending the security of Nato allies on Russian borders.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said Russia’s move on Crimea was unacceptable to the international community, while British foreign secretary William Hague said London had suspended military cooperation with Russia.

In his speech, Mr Putin lambasted Western nations for what he called hypocrisy, saying they had endorsed Kosovo’s independence from Serbia but now denied Crimeans the same right, he said.

“You cannot call the same thing black today and white tomorrow,” he declared to stormy applause, saying that while he did not seek conflict with the West, Western partners had “crossed the line” over Ukraine and behaved “irresponsibly”.

He said Ukraine’s new leaders, in power since the overthrow of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich last month, included “neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.

Mr Putin thanked China for what he called its support, even though Beijing abstained on a UNresolution on Crimea that Moscow had to veto on its own. He said he was sure Germans would support the Russian people’s quest for reunification, just as Russia had supported German reunification in 1990.

And he sought to reassure Ukrainians that Moscow did not seek any further division of their country. Fears have been expressed in Kiev that Russia might move on the Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine, where there has been tension between some Russian-speakers and the new authorities.

“Don’t believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea,” Mr Putin said. “We do not want a partition of Ukraine.”

Setting out Moscow’s view of the events that led to the overthrow of Yanukovich in a popular uprising last month, Mr Putin said the “so-called authorities” in Kiev had stolen power in a coup, opening the way for extremists who would stop at nothing.

Making clear Russia’s concern at the possibility of the US-led Nato military alliance expanding into Ukraine, he declared: “I do not want to be welcomed in Sevastopol (Crimean home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet) by Nato sailors.”

Moscow’s seizure of Crimea has caused the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War and Mr Putin showed no sign of backing down despite the threat of tougher sanctions.

In Crimea, where his speech and the signing ceremony were broadcast live, his words caused rapture for some.

“Putin’s done what our hearts were longing for,” said Natalia, a pensioner who sells snacks in a kiosk in the centre of Simferopol, the region’s capital. “This finally brings things back to what they should be after all those years. For me, for my family, there can be no bigger joy, for us this is sacred.”