Putin annexes Crimea, ignores Obama’s protests

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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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.”

The dramatic collapse of Obama’s outreach to Russia follows the Egyptian military’s decision in July 2013 to remove the Obama-backed and elected Muslim Brotherhood government. The coup ended Obama’s “New Beginning” strategy, announced June 2009 in Cairo University.

Obama’s effort to revamp the U.S. foreign policy in the Pacific, via a “Pivot to Asia,” has been blocked by China, which has used its growing economic and military power to claim a swatch of international seas and airspace encompassing territory held by Japan, the Philippines and other countries.

Obama’s effort to undermine Syria’s dictatorship failed in 2013 when he backed out of a threat to impose airstrikes. Since then, Syria’s government has used Iranian aid and Russian diplomatic support to put the assorted Islamic rebel forces on the defensive.

Obama is also retreating from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, without forcing the Taliban to break its longstanding alliance with al-Qaida. In 2010, he quit Iraq, allowing al-Qaida to rebuild its terror units, and helping Iran to win political dominance in the country.

In his Tuesday speech, Putin stepped up his rhetoric and suggested that Ukraine could not leave Russia’s multinational empire or federation, which stretches from the Baltic Sea in Europe to Alaska’s western border.

“After the [1917] revolution, the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine… with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine,” Putin told parliament.

“It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country [in 1991] that Russia realized that it was not simply robbed [of Crimea], it was plundered,” he said.

“Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” he said.

Two million people live in the Crimea.

“We don’t want the [NATO] alliance… to be near our homes, our land. I cannot imagine we would go to Sevastopol and be welcomed by NATO,” according to a translations of his speech tweeted by Mark MacKinnon, a correspondent for Candian newspaper The Globe and Mail.

“In the case of Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed a line, a red line. They’ve been unprofessional, they’ve irresponsible,” Putin said.

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