We’re going to wrap our live coverage for the day with a summary of where things stand:
• Ukraine has authorized its military to use weapons in self-defense, reversing orders to refrain from firing on assailants.
• A Ukrainian serviceman was shot dead during the storming of a military base in Simferopol, Crimea, and a captain was injured by attackers described as “unknown forces, fully equipped”. Regional Ukrainian forces remain largely trapped and threatened by pro-Russian irregulars.
• Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea, promising to protect all ethnic groups and criticizing what he called western aggression and hypocrisy. He said “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia.”
• Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of a “war crime”, saying the conflict had moved to a “military phase”. Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said Vladimir Putin is “personally responsible for this provocation”.
• The US, Germany and the European Council said they will not recognise the annexation of Crimea, as Nato condemned Russia’s “illegal” and “dangerous path”. Britain cancelled joint naval exercises and imposed sanctions and the White House warned it would be “ratcheting up the consequences to Russia”.
An official English translation of Putin’s speech is now available, and a number of lines reflect its sharp and unrelenting tone and content.
It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realised that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered. …
Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders. … I heard residents of Crimea say that back in 1991 they were handed over like a sack of potatoes. This is hard to disagree with.
Those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda … Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day. …
However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law. Firstly, it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never. … I cannot recall a single case in history of an intervention without a single shot being fired and with no human casualties.
Today the sign on Crimea’s regional parliament in Simferopol, which armed gunmen seized only a few weeks ago during demonstrations, was dismantled to reflect Russia’s move to annex the peninsula.
Pro-Russian irregulars threaten base and journalists
At the blockaded gates of Crimean military base, men “wearing Russian army uniforms with no markings … raised their weapons as journalists approached and threatened to open fire” Guardian’s Harriet Salem reports from a Bakhchysarai.
Speaking by telephone from inside, Aleksandr Krotov, a captain in Ukraine’s naval fleet, said the base was now mostly in the hands of Crimean irregulars and Russian troops, but he and 14 other officers had been holed up in their offices for 19 days.
“If we leave we cannot go back inside,” he said. “This is very clear.” Krotov said he and his colleagues … had been subject to psychological intimidation and threats of physical harm by the forces occupying the base. “We are only able to go the toilet under armed guard, and we have been threatened with being beaten and killed,” Krotov added.
Most local soldiers in their unit defected last week. “They threatened to beat us to death if we did not surrender,” said [a Ukrainian soldier].
Nato condemns Russia's move to annex Crimea
Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the Kremlin has embarked on a “dangerous path”, in a statement that continues:
Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and remains in blatant breach of its international commitments. There can be no justification to continue on this course of action that can only deepen Russia’s international isolation. Crimea’s annexation is illegal and illegitimate and Nato Allies will not recognise it.
I am deeply concerned by reports of the death of one Ukrainian officer. It is urgent that all sides show restraint and take all possible steps to avoid further escalation.
Ukraine continues to strengthen defenses along its eastern border, Reuters reports, but “there is no sign of a major troop buildup.”
Border defences have been strengthened by an anti-tank chicane of house-high concrete blocks, placed across the highway that links the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and runs round the coast toward Crimea, 200 miles west. Apart from the border guards checking documents, there was no sign of armed activity… Small detachments of military trucks and a few armoured vehicles have been seen … but not large units.
Reuters goes on to report the scene at the border:
Border guards have been more concerned to prevent what Kiev calls “Kremlin agents” – provocateurs they blame for violent clashes in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.
Captain Ihor Lizohub, deputy commander at the crossing, said Russians seeking entry were being asked their reasons: “Those who deliberately give false information are turned away.”
Photographer Alisa Borovikova has captured a photo appearing to show Ukrainian officers being arrested by pro-Russian forces, which meshes with accounts of incidents in Simferopol today.
• Ukraine has authorized its military to use weapons in self-defense, reversing orders to refrain from firing on attackers should soldiers’ lives be threatened.
• A Ukrainian serviceman was shot dead during the storming of a Ukrainian military base in Simferopol, Crimea. A defense ministry spokesman added that a captain was injured by the attackers, who were described as “unknown forces, fully equipped”. Russian state news said that a Crimean “self-defense fighter” was also killed during the incident.
• Following the shooting, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accused Russia of a “war crime”. He said the conflict had moved to a “military phase” and interim president Oleksandr Turchynov accused Vladimir Putin of being “personally responsible for this provocation”.
• Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea, promising to protect all ethnic groups and criticizing western aggression and hypocrisy. He said that in the hearts and minds of Russian people, “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia.”
• British foreign secretary William Hague announced the suspension of export licenses for military items to Russia and that joint naval exercises had been cancelled. He said that Putin had chosen the “route of isolation”.
• The US, Germany and European Council said that they would not recognise the annexation of Crimea. White House spokesman Jay Carney said of sanctions: “more is coming”. US vice-president Joe Biden said the world had seen through Russia’s “flawed logic”.
More details are coming in about the attack against a Ukrainian military unit in Simferopol today: unknown attackers used a Ukrainian military commander as a human shield, BBC quotes a defense ministry spokesman as saying. A defense ministry statement says that junior officer Kakurin was killed manning a tower, and Russian and pro-Russian leaders have denied involvement, Reuters reports.
This fits with Ukraine’s statement authorizing use or farms in self-defense, which mentions unit commander Andriy Andryushin being captured by assailants during negotiations.
A member of the “self-defense” group that participated in the clash was also killed, Russia’s state-owned Interfax reports, citing an unnamed source through the Crimean news agency. This has yet to be confirmed. Interfax also quotes Crimea’s recently appointed PM, Sergei Aksyonov, as saying “I don’t know anything. I’ve only just heard from you that someone was killed in Simferopol.”
As for the future of Russian intervention in Ukraine and consequent western sanctions, Alec Luhn reported a more muted response:
[MP Nikolai] Valuev said western sanctions “can’t touch” those who “feel together with Russia,” although he did note that his homes in Germany and Spain were up for sale.
Mutual troop buildups along the border have raised fears that Russia will seek to replicate the Crimea scenario in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, especially after several prominent politicians voiced support for similar referendums there.
The MP Leonid Slutsky, a target of US and EU sanctions, said Russia was not preparing to deploy troops in eastern Ukraine. “But if, God forbid, the situation gets to bloodshed like in Kiev, since our fellow countrymen are there, we will be obligated to react,” he said.
“It was hard to avoid Vladimir Putin at the rally in Red Square,” the Guardian’s Alec Luhn reports from the Moscow rally that took place earlier today, at which Putin spoke, beginning:
Today is a very bright, happy holiday. After a long, difficult, exhausting voyage, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their native harbour, to their native shores, to their port of permanent registration – to Russia!
Alec noted the popularity of the annexation agreement, and the disregard for western criticisms:
Police reports, which are often accused of exaggerating the size of pro-government rallies, said 120,000 people were assembled on Red Square. … Attendeessaid they felt pride in their resurgent country and in Putin for his decisive actions on the world stage. Frequent references to the US and signs reading “Obama! Look after Alaska!”
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will not travel to Moscow to meet with President Putin tomorrow, Reuters reports – not long after Russia’s Interfax reported that the leaders would meet for a discussion about Ukraine and Crimea. Interfax cited unnamed “diplomatic sources”.
Reuters quotes a Preben Aamann, a spokesman, who denies the report, simply stating that Van Rompuy will be preparing for a council meeting to be held in Brussels later this week.
Today Crimean Tatars mourned a man found beaten to death, a reminder that violent clashes have occurred since the beginning of the crisis in Crimea, and that the 12% minority group’s general opposition to Russian rule could have serious consequences. Turkey threatened today to close the Bosphorus to Russian ships in the event of violence against Crimean Tatars.
Others Crimean Tatars have already left the region.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, also made comments today, in line with those of interim prime minister Yatsenyuk’s. Turchynov said that the attempt to annex Crimea is “a very dangerous step … not only against Ukraine, but also against Europe and the whole world”. He went on to directly accuse Putin of manufacturing the crisis and violating international law.
We would like to warn President Putin – who is personally responsible for this act of provocation – the political leadership of the Russian Federation will from now on have to answer to the entire world for the crimes which they are committing today on the territory of our country.
Nazi Germany started the second world war by annexing parts of other countries. President Putin, who keeps talking about fascism, is imitating last century’s fascists today by annexing part of an independent state, recognised as such by the whole world.
The Guardian’s Dan Roberts has more on vice-president Joe Biden’s comments about US military presence in the Baltics, made today in Warsaw:
The US is considering sending ground troops to the Baltic states on new military exercises … “We are exploring a number of additional steps to increase the pace and scope of our military co-operation, including rotating US forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises – as well as training missions,” said Biden.
President Ilves [of Estonia] called on Nato to put “the east-west relationship on a new standing” after events in the Ukraine.
“We in Nato must draw our conclusions from Russia’s behaviour in the current crisis and conduct a review of the entire range of Nato-Russia relations. My hope is that at the upcoming [Nato] summit in Wales we will refocus on common defence: the raison d’etre of the alliance.”
Biden also told Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski that a dozen F-16s have been sent to Poland, saying “You have an ally whose budget is larger than the next 10 nations in the world combined, so don’t worry about where we are,” according to a White House pool report.
Scenes from a tense Simferopol, where one Ukrainian soldier died when pro-Russian forces attacked a military base.
Ukraine authorizes use of weapons
Ukrainian forces have been authorized to use weapons to defend themselves, Reuters reports, citing acting President Turchynov’s press service. Other sources have confirmed with Ukrainian military sources.
Update: The Ukrainian government has issued a statement authorizing use of arms, which also confirms that a junior officer has been killed and a captain injured in the neck.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Putin, has given an interview with the BBC in which he says military intervention in eastern Ukraine is “not on the agenda”.
Russia will do whatever is possible, using all legal means, in total correspondence with international law, to protect and to extend a hand to Russians living in eastern regions of Ukraine.
No one is speaking about … using forces in the eastern regions [of Ukraine] … Definitely it’s not on the agenda. But we don’t want to make any forecasts for bloodshed that can occur in the eastern regions. Because if the Ukrainian government pays no attention to the gravest situation in the eastern regions then the consequences may be very, very bad.
US secretary of state John Kerry, who is speaking at a town hall, says the possibility Russia could invade eastern Ukraine would be “as egregious as any step I can think of taken by a country in today’s world”. He also said that President Putin’s speech today was an attempt to “rewrite history” and that it “doesn’t jive with reality” and “only further put him on the wrong side of history”. He goes on:
“Nobody that I know of that reads the facts doubts Russia’s interests in Crimea. … Kiev has extraordinary connections to Russia … but that doesn’t legitimize just taking what you want because you want it.”
Lavrov promises 'consequences' for the west
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has told US secretary of state John Kerry in a call that sanctions are “absolutely unacceptable” and “will not remain without consequences”, a ministry statement reports.
Reuters also has it from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office that she and President Obama agree Russia has committed an “unacceptable blow to the territorial integrity of Ukraine”, that sanctions are a consequence of Russia’s actions, and also that “both remained open to dialogue”.
The Guardian’s Shaun Walker confirms reports of a death and injury, as well as of the tense situation on the ground.
The BBC’s Ben Brown, at the base at which the incident occurred, took a photos of the forces trying to control the situation earlier today.
US vice-president Joe Biden says the US is considering military exercises in the Baltics, Reuters reports.
Currently in Warsaw meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Biden said the US “is committed to Nato’s pledge to help member states if military action is taken against them”. On message with the White House, he also said the US would help Baltic states diversify their energy sources – a nod toward Russia’s oil dominance in the region.
Carney also spoke briefly about the referendum and the international laws disputed by the US, EU and Kremlin.
We have said all along that … there are legal means by which the residents of Crimea could take steps to change their status with Ukraine, or change their relationship with Ukraine, or Russia for that matter, but there’s a legal code for … those decisions to be made.
Prompted by reporters to speak about what the Kremlin might do or might be induced to do by sanctions, he said: “We’re not judging motives or intentions or predicting the future. I think President Putin spoke for himself today. I’m not going to psychoanalyze … behavior.”
White House comments on sanctions
White House press secretary Jay Carney has just given a briefing to reporters, saying of sanctions against Russia: “More is coming.”
Carney reiterated that “Russia’s attempt to annex a region of Ukraine illegaly will never be recognized by the US or the international community” and the Obama administration’s stance that Russia’s actions “are all in violation of international law and the Ukrainian constitution”.
On what form sanctions could take, he demurred, simply saying that the US and its international partners would be “ratcheting up the consequences to Russia” and “stepping up our assistance to Ukraine”. About previously announced sanctions, which one reporter called “in some cases risible”, Carney said “the costs have been real and they will increase.”
Carney stressed that the White House is deciding on further economic and diplomatic sanctions, but did say it’s reviewing requests from Ukraine for military support. With regard to the G8, he said: “All I can say is that preparations have been suspended. Summits don’t occur without preparations, and those preparations don’t look likely to resume anytime soon.” With regard to energy, Carney said that the US is looking on ways to support Ukraine’s energy security, and that should Russia cut energy shipments to Europe, it faces a “lose-lose situation” in which it suffers most.
• A Ukrainian serviceman has died after being shot dead in the storming of a Ukrainian military base in Simferopol, Crimea, according to a military spokesman. He said a captain was also injured and taken to hospital and other Ukrainian servicemen were arrested.
• The Ukrainian military spokesman described the attackers as “unknown forces, fully equipped”. Russia reportedly said that Crimean self-defence fighters were shot by a sniper.
• Following the shooting, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accused Russia of a “war crime”. He also said the conflict had moved from the political to the military stage.
• Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea on Tuesday, promising to protect all ethnic groups and criticising western aggression and hypocrisy. He said that in the hearts and minds of Russian people, “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia”
• The UK foreign secretary, William Hague, speaking in parliament, announced that export licenses for military items to Russia had been suspended and that joint naval exercises with Russia had been cancelled. He said that Putin had chosen the “route of isolation”.
• The US and European Council both said that they would not recognise the annexation of Crimea. US vice-president Joe Biden said the world had seen through Russia’s “flawed logic”.
Russia has offered an alternative version of events in Simferopol.
NBC’s Ed Flanagan, who was one of the first on the scene of the shooting in Simferopol, says that other Ukrainian troops had their weapons taken away and were arrested.
Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Danylo Lubkivsky told the BBC he could not confirm events at the military base in Simferopol but said that he feared an escalation.
Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov, speaking to Reuters by telephone from Crimea, said it was unclear who had staged the assault, but described the attackers, as “unknown forces, fully equipped and their faces covered”.
The Ukrainian serviceman who died was shot in the neck, the BBC’s Ben Brown reports. He says two bursts of automatic fire were heard and he says another man, a captain was also reportedly injured.
A Ukrainian serviceman has died after the attack on a Ukrainian military base in Simferopol, Crimea, Interfax is reporting.
Yatsenyuk: Russia has committed 'a war crime'
The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has accused Russia of a war crime, after shots were fired at a military base in Simferopol, Crimea, Reuters is reporting. He is quoted as saying:
Today Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian serviceman. This is a war crime.
He reportedly also said the conflict had moved from the political to a “military phase”.
The Open Europe thinktank has produced a briefing on what tools the EU has available to force Russia to back down in Crimea. Its key points include:
- Additional targeted individual sanctions or a potential arms embargo, would be hard to agree amongst the EU’s 28 member states and their impact remains unclear, though there may be some scope for a group of EU states to move ahead with some additional sanctions if it’s not possible to get agreement at the level of all 28.
- Still, cleverly targeted sanctions on individuals and business interests could hurt Russia. Between 2008 and 2013, $421bn worth of private sector money – equivalent to 20% of Russian GDP – has flown out of the country. That said, the routing of this money through offshore centres makes it very difficult to track.
- Therefore, the most effective economic measures could be a combination of targeted sanctions on influential individuals close to the top of the regime, business interests, specific firms wielding power in Ukraine (such as Gazprom) and potentially limiting sales to Russia of products on which they are externally reliant – such as machinery, chemicals and medical products.
- Sweeping energy sanctions would hit Russia the hardest but due to the EU’s dependence on Russian gas – in some countries as much as 100% of gas imports are Russian – this option is politically unlikely and could prove prohibitively expensive for the EU.
- Russia has an array of retaliatory options, including leveraging energy market power to secure favourable bilateral deals with other countries, applying tit-for-tat sanctions or, in extremis, wielding its hard power.
The thinktank concludes that a negotiated solution remains the most likely solution.
Ukrainian base attacked in Simferopol
Reuters has more on the storming of a Ukrainian base in Crimea’s main city, Simferopol:
Ukrainian troops said they were being attacked by Russian forces and one soldier, Interfax news agency said quoting a Ukrainian military spokesman.
“One Ukrainian serviceman has been wounded in the neck and collarbone. Now we have barricaded ourselves on the second floor. The headquarters has been taken and the commander has been taken. They want us to put down our arms but we do not intend to surrender,” he said.
“We are being stormed. We have about 20 people here and about 10 to 15 others, including women,” an unidentified serviceman told Fifth Channel television. “One of our officers was wounded during the attack, grazed in the neck and arm.”
In a statement on Crimea, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, has accused President Putin of sending “a chilling message across the continent of Europe”.
It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun. President Putin should be in no doubt that Russia will face more serious consequences and I will push European leaders to agree further EU measures when we meet on Thursday.
The choice remains for President Putin: take the path of de-escalation or face increasing isolation and tighter sanctions.
Putin in Red Square
Fresh from his defiant speech to the Russian parliament, Vladimir Putin has been addressing crowds in Red Square. He told crowds chanting “Russia!” and “Putin!”:
“Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to ... their home shores, to their home port, to Russia!”
The president concluded his speech on Red Square by shouting “Glory to Russia”.
A Ukrainian military spokesman has confirmed that one person has been wounded in a shooting at a Ukrainian military base in the Crimean capital of Simeferopol, according to Reuters. The incident was reported by NBC’s Ed Flanagan on Twitter earlier.
The incident involved the “storming of the base”, according to the spokesman.
The president of ex-Soviet Moldova has warned Russia against any attempt to annex his country’s separatist Transdniestria region in the same way that it has taken control of Crimea in Ukraine.
During a trip to Moscow, the speaker of Transdniestria’s separatist parliament, Mikhail Burla, yesterday urged Russia to incorporate his mainly Russian-speaking region, which split away from Moldova in 1990, one year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
President Nicolae Timofti said today that Russia would be making a “mistake” if it agreed to the request:
This is an illegal body which has taken no decision on inclusion into Russia. I believe that Burla’s actions are counter-productive and will do no good for either Moldova or Russia. And if Russia makes a move to satisfy such proposals, it will be making a mistake.
The separatist region fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and it declared itself an independent state, but it remains unrecognised by any country, including Russia, which has 1,500 troops stationed there.
A referendum in Transdniestria in 2006 produced a 97.2% vote in favour of joining Russia, an even higher score than in Crimea’s referendum. Unlike Crimea, however, it is located far from Russia. It shares a border with Ukraine.
Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, has been governed by pro-Western leaders since 2009. It has clinched an association agreement with the European Union, as currently sought by the pro-western leaders who came to power in Ukraine after the removal of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian troops have attempted to storm a Ukrainian military base in Simferopol, according to NBC’s Ed Flanagan.
Turkey has reportedly threatened to close the Bosphorus to Russian ships, if there is violence against the Crimean Tatars.
In his speech today, President Putin was at pains to stress that the rights of Tatars, persecuted and deported from Ukraine in the Stalin-era, would be protected.
Citing a diplomatic source, the Sofia news agency says that Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan made the threat in a telephone conversation with Putin.
Erdogan also said that Turkey would not recognise the referendum in Crimea in which 97% of the voters cast their ballots in favour of joining the Russian Federation, according to the report.
The US and its G7 allies will gather next week at The Hague to consider further response to Russia’s attempt to absorb Ukraine’s Crimea region, the White House said today. The meeting will take place on the margins of a nuclear security summit that Barack Obama plans to attend.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said:
The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine.
The G7 includes the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Japan and Italy. The European Union was also invited to the talks. The G7 leaders already have suspended preparations for a G8 summit, which includes Russia, that is scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia, but is in doubt because of Ukraine.
The French president, Francois Hollande, has condemned President Putin’s signing of a treaty integrating Crimea into Russia, saying Europe needs to provide a “strong” response:
I condemn this decision. France does not recognise either the results of the referendum ... or the attachment of this Ukrainian region to Russia.
The next European Council meeting on March 20-21 must provide the opportunity for a strong and coordinated European response to the hurdle that has just been jumped.
Speaking in Poland, the US vice-president, Joe Biden, said that the world has rejected Russia’s “flawed logic” and warned of further sanctions.
Biden, who has been meeting anxious European leaders, including Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said:
The world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea can’t be accepted by the international community including Poland. In one moment this changes the country’s (Ukraine) borders and the geopolitical situation in this region of the world.
Ukraine does not recognise the treaty signed in Moscow today making its Crimean peninsula a part of Russia, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said. Spokesman Evhen Perebynis said on Twitter (via Reuters):
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. Putin’s address very clearly demonstrates just how real the threat is that Russia poses to international security and international security.
The UK foreign secretary, William Hague, speaking in parliament, says joint naval exercises with Russia have been cancelled and export licenses for military items have been suspended.
Hague dismissed Vladimir Putin’s comparison of Crimea to Kosovo as an attempt to “muddy the waters of international opinion”, pointing out that there was ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. He also said that Putin had chosen the “route of isolation”.
Despite the Russian president’s claim that Russia has no intention of trying to annex other regions in Ukraine, Hague said there was “grave risk” of escalation elsewhere in Ukraine.
The Russian foreign ministry has said it will retaliate against EU sanctions. In a statement, it said:
Attempts to speak to Russia in the language of force and threaten Russian citizens with sanctions will lead nowhere. 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.
An English translation of Putin’s speech is available here (although only part of it has been translated so far).
Here is some reaction to the address:
Summary - Vladimir Putin speech
Here is a summary of what the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said during his address to parliament, lasting just under an hour.
• Putin signed draft legislation on bringing the Crimea region into Russia following a defiant address to the federal assembly. Crimea’s prime minister and parliament speaker also signed the document.
• During the televised address, he said that in the hearts and minds of Russian people, “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia”. He said its fate had always been an issue of “vital importance” to Russia.
• Putin dismissed the idea that Russia would try to seize other regions in Ukraine, as an attempt to scare people. “We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this,” he said.
• He said that the rights of all minorities would be protected in Crimea, announcing that all all three main nationalities there - Ukrainians, ethnic Russians and Tatars - would have equal language rights. Tatars, who were persecuted and deported under Stalin have been particularly fearful of their fate under Russia.
• He accused the west of having “crossed the line” over Ukraine, and of trying to scare Russia with sanctions. Putin said Russia would never seek to start a confrontation with the west but would defend its own interests.
• Referring to intervention around the world, including in the Middle East, Putin said western partners, headed by the US ,were guided by the “rule of the gun”. Dismissing accusations of aggression made against Russia, he said not a single shot had been fired in Crimea.
• The Russian president accused nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites of being behind the “coup” in Ukraine.He said usurpers and radicals were in government positions in Kiev.
To the Russian national anthem, Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty on making Crimea part of Russia.
The Russian president finishes by asking parliament to pass legislation to recognise and then join Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to Russia.
I have no doubt of your support.
He is given a standing ovation as he walks off.
We are not against Nato, says Putin but we are against them being on our border.
He says they are “good guys but let them come to see us rather than us visit them”.
We want friendship with Ukraine, we want it to be a strong state. They are one of our leading partners ....Along with other countries, we are prepared to facilitate this process.
Addressing the people of Sevastopol, Putin says they decided the fate of Crimea and that people applaud their bravery and dignity.
We will never aim a confrontation with our partners, be it in the east or in the west.
The leadership of Sevastopol were guided by the genuine interests of the people in drawing up the referendum, not by political interests, says Putin. They were posed the question directly and the referendum was “open and honest”.
People clearly expressed their will. They want to be with Russia.
He reels out a number of statistics. Most polls show 95% of Russians believe they should protect the interests of Russian people in Ukraine, 84% say they should do this even if it will harm relations with other countries, 83% believe Crimea is already part of Russia and 94% are for Crimea joining Russia - “a very important statistic”. An absolute majority of citizens in Crimea and the Russian federation support “reunification” says the Russian president - cue thunderous applause.
We are grateful to all those who understood our actions in Crimea. We are grateful to the people of China.
The Russian president says he wants to address the people in the US. Referring to the US declaration of independence he asks is the Crimean people’s quest for freedom not similar.
He also refers to German reunification and says he hopes the Germans will support Russia in this instance as Russia supported reunification.
We have already respected the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine ...don’t trust those who frighten you about Russia, who say that Russia will move into other regions [of Ukraine].
Crimea will never be a region of Banderas, it will be a home for all ethnic groups, the president continues.
It is a “strategic authority that should be under strong and stable sovereignty”, which could only be Russian today.
There was not one military confrontation in Crimea, says Putin. Talking about accusations of Russian aggression, he asks who has heard of any intervention without a single shot being fired.
He contrasts Russia’s actions with those of the west in recent years, referring to western intervention around the world, including in the Middle East.
In the case of Ukraine our western partners have overstretched their limit, says Putin.
Russia was on the brink, it could not step back any more.
Many of the government positions in Ukraine are occupied by usurpers, radicals, says Putin.
It would be a “betrayal” to leave Crimea in trouble, he says.
Russian military forces have never entered Crimea, except in compliance with the agreement which allows their presence, he continues.
Crimean authorities acted on the “Kosovo precedent, created by our western partners”, says Putin. There is no ban in law on declaring independence.
The US and Europe say Kosovo is a special case. What is so special?
This is “surprising, shocking, straight cynicism”.
Crimeans feel like they were handed over like “a sack of potatoes”, says Putin.
Russia wants good relationship with its neighbour but he explains how he says Russians have suffered in Ukraine.
Russians were the object of forceful assimilation in Ukraine, were in “constant crisis”, their language was taken away from them.
He refers to a coup d’etat in Ukraine, says there were murders pogroms and lays the blame at nationalists, anti-semites and neo-Nazis.
The Russian president is at pains to say that Russia will protect the rights of everyone within Crimea.
The issue of Crimea has “historical significance” for us, says Putin. As he cites the results of the referendum, which he says was in full compliance with democratic principles, there is more applause.
There is more applause as he refers to Sevastopol as the city of legends and the birthplace of the Russian navy.
Crimea is the unique convergence of different nations and in that sense is very much like Russia, says Putin.
Talking about the Crimean Tatars, he says that the referendum result shows that they also want to join Russia. He says the Tatars were unjustly persecuted in the past as were Russians. Ethnic groups will be protected under Russia, says Putin.
The conviction that Crimea was a part of Russia was “unshakeable” and passed from generation to generation, says the Russian president.
Putin begins. He welcomes residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to great applause.
You can watch the speech live here. Alec Luhn, in Moscow, will be providing live text updates during the address.
Putin is due to speak shortly.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the Crimean authorities to urgently investigate the killing of a Tatar from the Simferopol region last seen at a protest. Tatars were deported from Ukraine in the Stalin-era and have expressed fears about their fate if Crimea were to become part of Russia.
HRW said Reshat Ametov, was last seen during a protest on 3 March, 2014, on Lenin Square in Simferopol, where three unidentified men in military-style jackets had led him away, according to his relatives. On 16 March, local police informed them that a body bearing marks of violent death had been found outside the town of Belogorsk. The following day the family identified the body as Ametov’s. He had regularly petitioned local authorities regarding problems in his neighbourhood and discussed on his Facebook page issues related to the situation of Crimean Tatars and the future of Crimea, a relative told Human Rights Watch.
Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at HRW. said:
The disappearance and murder of Reshat Ametov illustrates the climate of lawlessness that has been pervasive in Crimea over the last week. Crimean authorities have a duty to thoroughly investigate this case and punish those responsible, whoever they are.
Ukraine’s new pro-western leadership is not seeking membership of Nato, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said today, in comments intended to reassure Russia and Ukraine‘s large number of Russian-speakers.
Yatsenyuk also said decentralisation of power was a key plank of government policy and that Kiev’s efforts to integrate with Europe would take into account the interests of Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking industrial east. During a 10-minute televised appeal delivered in Russian (Yatsenyuk usually speaks in Ukrainian), he said:
Strictly with a view to maintaining Ukraine’s unity, the question of joining Nato is not on the agenda. The country will be defended by a strong, modern Ukrainian army.
Kiev pursued a policy of closer ties with the US-led Nato alliance before Viktor Yanukovych took power in 2010. Yanukovych then formally scrapped the idea of Ukraine’s eventual membership of Nato, declaring ‘non-bloc’ neutrality for his nation of 46 million sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.
Russia has been suspended from the G8, according to France’s foreign minister.
The other seven members of the group had already suspended preparations for a G-8 summit that Russia is scheduled to host in June in Sochi over the situation in Crimea.
Laurent Fabius went further today, telling Europe-1 radio that “concerning the G-8 ... we decided to suspend Russia’s participation, and it is envisaged that all the other countries, the seven leading countries, will unite without Russia”
He did not give further details.
The Conservative former UK foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has described the international response to Russia’s actions in Crimea as “pathetic”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
This is the most dangerous crisis we have faced and it’s a crisis for Europe, not just for Ukraine.Already Russian troops have occupied the whole of Crimea, part of the territory of another country. If the reports are correct, they are about to annex that territory to Russia - first time since 1945 that something of that kind has happened. All that the international community have done so far is implement visa sanctions and asset freezes on 22/23 individuals. That is a pathetic response.
Rifkind said that President Putin’s “real target” was to effectively control the former Soviet nations on the federation’s border:
They won’t be formally all incorporated in Russia, I’m not saying that, but he wants to effectively make them Russian dependencies that have to do what they are told.
Prime minister David Cameron defended the sanctions as “robust”. He said:
We’ve said that what happened in Crimea was wrong, and so there would be consequences, and already we’ve put in place measures.We’ve said that if Russia didn’t enter a contact group and start discussing these issues with Ukraine, there would be travel bans and asset freezes. There are now travel bans and asset freezes.
And if Russia takes further action to destabilise the Ukraine and to threaten its territorial integrity, there will be further consequences. We have been clear, predictable and firm and consistent in the approach that we’ve taken and that is the right approach to take.
Good morning. We will have live coverage of Vladimir Putin’s address on Crimea and all the other developments relating to Ukraine here today. Here’s a round-up of the latest developments:
• The Russian president has has approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea following a referendum in the peninsula that overwhelmingly supported seceding from Ukraine. He will deliver his position on the contentious issue at 11am GMT.
• Putin posted a decree on the Kremlin website last night recognising Crimea as a sovereign state, in what appeared to be a first step toward integrating Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation. The decree, which took effect immediately, said Moscow’s recognition of Crimea as independent was based on “the will of the people of Crimea”.
• Barack Obama has warned of further sanctions against Russia, amid criticism that the measures imposed yesterday were “toothless”. The White House imposed sanctions against 11 named individuals and the EU imposed sanctions on 21 individuals. The White House defended them as the most comprehensive since the end of the cold war.
• The Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who faces sanctions on the US list, was dismissive of the measures, tweeting that the move drawn up by Obama must have been the work of a “prankster”. The Russian market was equally dismissive, with the rouble doing well on the day. Markets elsewhere in Europe rose, judging that the prospect of trade battles was receding.