President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will do its utmost to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine, but also that he has approved defence ministry plans to set up a military task force in Crimea.
Putin was addressing Russia’s parliament on Thursday, known as Duma, that had travelled en masse from its normal seat in Moscow to Yalta in Crimea, in what many are seeing as a sign to the people of the recently annexed region that they have not been forgotten.
“We will do everything in our power so that this conflict is ended as soon as possible, so that the blood can stop flowing in Ukraine,” Putin said.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from the meeting hall in Yalta, said Putin had already been in the region for a few days, meeting its interim leaders.
“If Crimea wanted a display from the Russian government that it takes them and their causes seriously then this is it,” our correspondent said.
Putin’s address, ahead of a Duma extraordinary meeting, emphasised the work that was being done to transform Crimea during its “period of transition”.
The Russian president pledged more than 700bn roubles would be sent to the region to creat new jobs and improve the transport and communication infastructure.
Putin also said Russia would support the “rehabilitaiton of a repressed people” by preserving three official languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar.
The Tatars have a fractous relationship with Russia, and many felt that their rights would be forgotten when the region was annexed.
Despite worsening relationships with the West, illustrated by increasingly harsh sanctions on both sides, Putin said on Thursday that Russia should not “fence itself off from the outside world” and added that the ongoing tit-for-tat trade restrictions did not mean Russia was looking to “should break ties with partners. But we should also not let them treat us with disdain”.
Research Analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies Justin Bronk told Al Jazeera Putin had staked a lot of his personal credibility on Crimea.
“Putin has a very very difficult balancing act that he need to keep up here because for him, his domestic popularity ratings are all important. He has staked an enormous amount of personal crdibility on Crimea and also on the separatists in Ukraine,” Bronk said.
“Because those separatists are being pushed back, he’s now under pressure to either intervene militarily or disown them, which is probably why he’s giving this display of faith towards Crimea.
“The near miracle, as it is seen in Russia, of having returned Crimea bloodlessly to Russia, is keeping his ratings high, but in the long term it will tail of and then the economic cost of his policies may start to hurt him.”