The referendum on independence in Crimea was conducted in strict accordance with democratic principles and the international law, President Vladimir Putin told the Federal Assembly, as he was welcomed by a standing ovation.
Putin stressed that the results of the referendum, in which more than 82 percent of Crimean residents came to polling stations and more than 96 percent of those voted for rejoining Russia, leave no room for equivocation.
He said the history of Crimea, its cultural, religious and spiritual ties bind it with the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, which explains the attitude Russians have towards the peninsula.
The president said Crimea had dark pages in its past, particularly the persecution of Crimean Tatars and other minorities in the USSR. The authorities of Crimea seek to recompense for those ills. One such move would be accepting the language of Crimean Tatars as an official language in Crimea on par with Russian and Ukrainian.
Putin lashed out at former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, under whose rule Crimea was attached to the Soviet Ukraine without any regard for Crimeans’ wishes and in violation of the laws of the time.
Crimean separation from Russia was reinforced again after the split of the Soviet Union, Putin said. This could be partially blamed on Moscow too, as it hailed the so-called “parade of sovereignty” of the Soviet Republics.
Russia has since respected the results of the USSR’s dissolution, including Crimea’s being part of Ukraine.
Russia’s position was based on the assumption that Ukraine would remain a friendly partner respecting the historic ties between the two countries. Russia continues and will continue to see these relations as most important.
Putin criticized several governments in Kiev for neglecting average Ukrainians, seeing the country as a source of profit.
He said he sympathized with Ukrainians who took to the streets of Kiev in protest against President Yanukovich, whom they saw as profoundly corrupt.
But the new authorities who replaced Yanukovich after an armed coup are to a large degree controlled by the radical nationalists, Putin stated.
Those same radicals voiced threats against Ukrainians who resist their rule, particularly those living in Crimea.
Turning a blind eye to those threats and the moves of the new authorities, which violated the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, would be betrayal on part of Russia, Putin said.
The president brushed aside the allegations that Russia “invaded” Crimea ahead of the referendum. He said Moscow only reserved the right to use its troops to protect ethnic Russians from the radicals, but never did so.
Whatever troops Russia has in Ukraine are present lawfully, since Russia can deploy up to 25,000 troops as part of the contract to maintain its naval base in Crimea, Putin said.
Putin dismissed criticism of the Crimean referendum, which calls the move illegitimate. He cited Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence as an example of self-determination praised by the West.
That ballot was ruled legitimate from the standpoint of international law by the International Court of Justice, and the same rule applies to Crimea, he said.
He dismissed the notion that Kosovo was a unique case due to the bloodshed and ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia, a position maintained by Washington.
The ICJ says nothing about number of victims in justifying Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, Putin said.
Russia dismisses the “need” for victims for Crimea to declare independence, Putin said. He added that there could be victims there, if it were not for the Crimean self-defense forces, which prevented any possible provocations.
The Russian president also praised the Ukrainian military in Crimea, who showed restrained during the crisis and did not allow any bloodshed in the defiant peninsula.
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