Russian President Vladimir Putin today annexed the Russian-majority Ukrainian province of Ukraine amid cheers of “Russia! Russia!” from Russian legislators and voters.
He also laid out a case for Russian control of Ukraine, continuing his stage-by-stage challenge to U.S. and European support for Ukrainian independence.
The annexation vote marks a complete failure of President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2009 effort to “reset” U.S. foreign policy with Russia. The policy offered conciliatory proposals, the cancellation of planned U.S. anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, and “more flexibility” on arms control talks.
Obama and his deputies have tried to resist Putin’s takeover of the Crimea with threats of economic sanctions, but also are setting the stage for a face-saving deal. In the deal, Ukraine would adopt a new constitution that voluntarily yields control over territory to Russia, including the Crimea and perhaps Russian-majority slices of eastern Ukraine.
“Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride,” Putin told legislators in an emotional speech.
“This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized [in 988 and] his spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,” Putin declared.
“The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea…. Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolizing Russian military glory and outstanding valor,” he declared.
Putin also suggested that Ukraine and its capital, Kiev, should be reabsorbed into Russia’s empire. “Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities…. We won’t be able to live without each other,” he announced.
Vice President Biden, however, labelled the emotional annexation a mere “land grab” during his trip to Poland. He flew out on Monday to reassure Russia’s western neighbors that the U.S.-led NATO alliance won’t abandon them.
On Monday, Obama announced he was imposing travel and banking sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians. The Duma, Russia’s parliament, showed its contempt toward Obama’s sanctions by formally voting through a request that he include the legislators in his token travel and banking sanctions.
One of the targeted officials, Vladislav Surkov, a close adviser to Putin, dismissed the sanctions, saying “this is a big honor for me… In the U.S., I’m interested in Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work.”