President Vladimir Putin has commended Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, thanking his people for their bravery and loyalty in his New Year’s speech.
In his annual speech on Wednesday, Putin said that “this event will forever remain a most important milestone in our history”.
He said that love for the motherland was what ensured that the Crimean peninsula joined Russia in March after a controversial referendum.
The pre-recorded speech has already been broadcasted in Russia’s far eastern regions, where the holiday was celebrated hours ahead of Moscow because of the time difference.
But as the Russian president bid farewell to what he described as a historic year, he made no mention of the problems of Western sanctions, falling oil prices and the economic crisis that will possibly put Russia into recession in 2015.
Along with his message to Russian communities, Putin spoke to heads of state and international organisations, including US President Barack Obama.
He mentioned the upcoming 70th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II, and said that should serve as a reminder of “the responsibility that Russia and the United States bear for maintaining peace and international stability”.
Putin also said that Moscow was anxious for those bilateral relations to advance, but only as long as there is “equality and mutual respect”.
Moscow sent over their troops to take over Crimea, home to a Russian naval base, after pro-Kremlin president was removed from power in February. That was followed by a hastily-called referendum on Crimea joining Russia, which Ukraine and the West rejected as illegal.
These events fuelled Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s encouragement for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting between the government troops and the rebels has led to the death of more than 4,700 since April.
The Russian ruble lost about half its value in 2014 and the economy is facing crisis due to the Western sanctions.
Although Putin made promises that the economy will bounce back in two years, he has failed to give a clear plan for easing Russia’s heavy dependence on oil and gas revenues.