Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the “so-called” authorities in Ukraine, saying they had stolen power in a coup and had opened the way for “extremists” who would stop at nothing to determine the future of Ukraine.
“Those who were behind recent events, they were …preparing a coup d’etat, another one. They were planning to seize power, stopping at nothing. Terror, murder, pogroms were used,” he told a joint session of parliament on Tuesday, calling them “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.
“It is primarily they who are deciding how Ukraine lives today. The so-called Ukrainian authorities introduced a scandalous law on the revision of the language policy, which directly violated the rights of the national minorities.”
He also defended Russia’s move to annex the Crimea region, saying that the rights of ethnic Russians have been abused by the Ukrainian government.
Russian troops took effective control of Crimea last month and supported the Sunday referendum that overwhelmingly called for annexation by Russia.
Putin said the vote was in line with international law, reflecting its right for self-determination.
He pointed at the example of Kosovo’s independence bid, supported by the West, and said that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine repeats Ukraine’s own secession from the Soviet Union in 1991.
He denied Western accusations that Russia invaded Crimea prior to the referendum, saying Russian troops were sent there in line with a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea.
Putin’s address to parliament came after he ignored the toughest sanctions against Moscow since the end of the Cold War and recognised the Crimean Peninsula as an “independent and sovereign country”.
He said in his speech that Russia had been suffering from unofficial sanctions since the end of the Cold War, despite the fact that formal restrictions had been lifted.
Tensions between Russia and the West have soared over the Crimea crisis, and the US and EU have imposed asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk rejected Putin’s remarks during a press conference held in Warsaw.
“The world has rejected the flawed logic behind these actions,” Biden said, adding that the Russian military movement in Crimea is “nothing but a land grab”.
At the beginning of a two-day trip to Europe that also includes a visit to Lithuania, Biden assured Poland that the US is a “steadfast ally” and that it will protect NATO allies on Russian borders, if needed.
“Russia’s economic isolation will only increase if it continues down this path, and we will see additional sanctions by the US and the EU,” Biden said.
Biden said collective security guarantees remained the bedrock of NATO, and that Washington will take additional steps to strengthen the alliance in the future.
He said the US stood by its commitment to complete a missile defence system in Poland by 2018.
Dusk expressed his country’s “deep concern” towards updates in the Crimea, and welcomed tighter military relationship with the US.
“Crimea’s crisis is not the issue of Ukraine only, but Poland is also deeply concerned,” Dusk said.
Military cooperation suspended
Britain suspended military cooperation with Russia on Tuesday, after Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed concern that provocation elsewhere in Ukraine could be a pretext for further military escalation.
Hague said the action included cancelling a planned French, Russian, UK and US naval exercise and suspending a proposed visit by a Royal Navy ship to St Petersburg.
He also said Britain would be pushing for the strongest possible package of further sanctions against Russia that could be agreed among European leaders when the EU council meets later this week.
“It was regrettable to hear President Putin today choosing the route of isolation, denying the citizens of his own country,
and of Crimea, partnership with the international community and full membership of a range of international organisations,” Hague said in a statement to parliament.