Putin condemns western hypocrisy as he confirms annexation of Crimea

Russian president makes speech laced with bluster and anger at west, saying Russia has been 'cheated again and again'

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Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea on Tuesday in a searing speech to assembled political elites in Moscow shot through with angry rhetoric about western aggression and hypocrisy.

The Russian president summoned the federal assembly, which includes both houses of parliament and all key political leaders, for an extraordinary session in the Kremlin's St George Hall.

Putin delivered an hour-long speech laced with patriotic bluster and anger at the west, whose politicians he said "call something white today and black tomorrow".

He was frequently interrupted by applause and at the end of the speech signed documents together with the de facto leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov – who came to power after seizing the local parliament at gunpoint last month – to absorb the territory into Russia.

Putin recognised Crimea as an independent state late on Monday evening, making it easier to incorporate into the Russian Federation than if it were still Ukrainian territory. Kiev has said it will never give up its claim to Crimea, but is unable to respond to Russia militarily due to the huge disparity in their respective martial forces.

Ukrainian politician Vitali Klitschko, who will stand in presidential elections in May, called on Tuesday for Ukraine to sever diplomatic ties with Russia.

Announcing the suspension of joint naval exercises with Russia and of export licences for military items to Moscow, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said Putin had chosen the "route of isolation". The US vice-president, Joe Biden, said the world had rejected Russia's "flawed logic" and threatened further sanctions.

"In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia," said Putin, who added that ethnic Russians had found themselves isolated from the motherland when the Soviet Union collapsed, both in Crimea and elsewhere.

"Millions of Russians went to sleep in one country and woke up living abroad, as a national minority in former republics of the union. The Russian people became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, split-up nation in the world."

Putin aired a list of foreign policy grievances going back to 2000, saying "we were cheated again and again, with decisions being taken behind our back", and insisted that it was ludicrous to claim the precedent of Kosovo – which was recognised by the west as an independent country following its secession from Serbia – as unique.

"How would our colleagues claim its uniqueness? It turns out because during the Kosovo conflict there were many human casualties. What, is that supposed to be a valid legal argument?" he asked.

With the annexation of Crimea considered a fait accompli, Kiev and the west are now looking with anxiety to eastern Ukraine, where a number of protests by elements of the Russian-speaking population have ended in violence and led the Russian foreign ministry to speak about the possible necessity of "defending" Russian speakers there.

"Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea," said Putin on Tuesday, going some way to allaying those fears. "We do not want a partition of Ukraine. We do not need this."

However, he reiterated his belief that Moscow feels the Kiev government is illegitimate, and also referenced long-held Russian fears of encirclement by the west.

"I do not want to be welcomed in Sevastopol by Nato sailors," said Putin, speaking of the Crimean port where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. The city has special status within Crimea, and officially, Russia will welcome two new nations into its fold: Crimea, and the city of Sevastopol.

In Crimea itself, thousands gathered in Sevastopol to watch Putin's speech on a big screen in the main square and broke into the Russian national anthem when it was over. In the Crimean capital, Simferopol, men on ladders removed the large gold Ukrainian-language lettering on the regional parliament.

It is expected that in the coming months Crimea will switch to the rouble and introduce Moscow time and the Russian visa system. Russia will begin ratification of the treaty to formalise Crimea's annexation within days.

The grab of Crimea went ahead despite the US and EU announcing sanctions against several top Russian officials on Monday. On Tuesday the foreign ministry responded angrily to the sanctions and said reciprocal measures would be introduced.

"Attempts to speak to Russia in the language of force and threaten Russian citizens with sanctions will lead nowhere," said the ministry's statement.

"The adoption of restrictive measures is not our choice; however, it is clear that the imposition of sanctions against us will not go without an adequate response from the Russian side."


Shaun Walker in Simferopol

The GuardianTramp

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