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Putin defends separatist drive in Crimea as legal



KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday defended the separatist drive in the disputed Crimean Peninsula as in keeping with international law, as Ukraine's prime minister vowed not to relinquish "a single centimeter" of his country's territory.

Over the weekend, the Kremlin beefed up its military presence in Crimea, a part of Ukraine since 1954, and pro-Russia forces keep pushing for a vote in favor of reunification with Moscow in a referendum the local parliament has scheduled for next Sunday.

President Barack Obama has warned that the March 16 vote would violate international law. But in Moscow, Putin made it clear that he supports the referendum in phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron.

"The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula," said Putin, according to the Kremlin.

Following an extraordinary Sunday meeting of the Ukrainian government, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced that he will fly to the United States this week for high-level talks on "resolution of the situation in Ukraine," the Interfax news agency reported.

"Our country and our people are facing the biggest challenges in the history of modern independent Ukraine," the prime minister said earlier in the day. "Will we be able to deal with these challenges? There should only be one answer to this question and that is: yes."

In an emotional climate of crisis, Ukraine on Sunday solemnly commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its greatest poet, Taras Shevchenko, a son of peasant serfs who is a national hero and is considered the father of modern Ukrainian literature.

"This is our land," Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to Shevchenko. "Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won't budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."

"We're one country, one family and we're here together with our kobzar (bard) Taras," said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov.

Later, Ukrainians in the tens of thousands massed in the Kiev's center for a multi-faith prayer meeting to display unity and honor Shevchenko. One of the speakers, former imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, almost burst into tears as he implored the crowd to believe that not all Russians support their country's recent actions in Ukraine.

"I want you to know there is a completely different Russia," Khodorkovsky said.

Crimea, a strategic peninsula in the Black Sea, has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sparked by President Victor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia led to his downfall. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, as is Ukraine's.

In Simferopol, Crimea's capital, a crowd of more than 4,000 people turned out Sunday to endorse unification with Russia. On Lenin Square, a naval band played World War II songs as old women sang along, and dozens of tricolor Russian flags fluttered in the cold wind.

"Russians are our brothers," Crimean Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said. He asked the crowd how it would vote in the referendum a week hence.

"Russia! Russia!" came the loud answer.

"We are going back home to the motherland," said Konstantinov.

Across town, at a park where a large bust of Shevchenko stands, around 500 people, some wearing yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags on their shoulders like capes, came out to oppose unification with Russia.

They chanted "No to the referendum!" and "Ukraine!" People handed out fliers, one of which listed the economic woes that joining Russia would supposedly cause.

"We will not allow a foreign boot that wants to stand on the heads of our children," said one of the speakers, Alla Petrova. "The people are not scared. We are not scared to come out here and speak."

Some pro-Russians drove by, shouting "Moscow, Moscow!" from their cars, but there was no trouble.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who appeared on the BBC Sunday morning, described Russia's entering Crimea as a "big miscalculation."

He also said the March 16 referendum was happening "ridiculously quickly." Hague added, "The world will not be able to regard that as free or fair."

During his conversations with Cameron and Merkel, Putin criticized the Western leaders for what he said was their failure to press the new government in Kiev to curb ultranationalist and radical forces.

But the Kremlin also said that despite their differences, the three leaders expressed an interest in reducing tensions and normalizing the situation in Ukraine as soon as possible.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
rockermn March 10 2014 at 1:11 PM

If Obama was president instead of FDR, Reagan etc. we would really be under by now...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Ken rockermn March 10 2014 at 1:35 PM

We would probably be speaking Chinese now instead of Spanish! LOL

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mbrheljr March 10 2014 at 11:56 AM

QUESTION: How can you tell when some folks lie?

ANSWER: Their lips move.

CAST OF SUSPECTS: Putin...(please add your own choice below)...

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
Gene mbrheljr March 10 2014 at 12:00 PM

Easy.......the Obama, Dems and liberals.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
mrd1776 mbrheljr March 10 2014 at 12:02 PM

1. Obama
2. Anybody working for Obama
3. Obama's blind followers
4. George Dubya Bush
5. Anybody working for Dubya
6. Dubya's blind followers
7. Hillary
8. Anybody working for Hillary
9. Hillary's blind followers
10. Most of Congress; both parties.
Warning: This is only the short list.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
carocarpenter March 09 2014 at 6:03 PM

Here we go...another excuse to raise the damn gas prices....build the Keystone pipeline and tell these people to go f themselves.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
1 reply
bemystic11 carocarpenter March 09 2014 at 6:13 PM

You don't know what you are talking about. Right now, the US has more than sufficient oil and gas....we have enough natural gas to last for decades. We are SELLING our oil and gas. Build the Keystone, and it yields no advantage to the American people; except the leaks will poison our aquifers and ground water.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
JIMMY March 10 2014 at 11:51 AM

Seems like 1967 all over again.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
bemystic11 March 09 2014 at 6:11 PM

Of course the "western leaders" want to ease the tensions. The fact is the European nations will do nothing since they are completely dependent on Russian oil and gas. National interests always trump humanitarianism and standing up to bullies and dictators/thugs like Putin.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
2 replies
truthmakesliberalssick bemystic11 March 09 2014 at 6:13 PM

President Obama should Build The Keystone Pipeline and
Supply Europe with oil and gas which then takes away Russia's
main source of revenue and drives down the cost of energy for all.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
johnnysul64 March 09 2014 at 6:13 PM

Crimea and Ukraine are goners.
The Balkans, Hungary, Poland and The Czech Republic are next.
Putin will restore the former USSR.
It is not all Obama's fault but his "love me Vladie" act was perceived as soft by Putin.
Putin feels that he can do whatever he wants in the next 3 years.
He probably will.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
olwlm March 10 2014 at 11:36 AM

WHY Russian (USSR) leaders behave what/how they behave? It must be in their genes. Then again, "every one is looking after his/her own interests" is a universal truth all over the globe.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Paul March 10 2014 at 11:31 AM

The whole world couldn't for the US to bail 'em out the last time, WWI..WWII. This time we're claiming everything win! So we can bury our boys on the turf they fought for! And this time your not welcome! wusses!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ecolgc March 10 2014 at 10:36 AM

I guess Checyna just needs to float a referendum and there home free, independence by referendum, new Russian policy.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
mshrug March 10 2014 at 11:13 AM

What is it about foreigners that believe that the USA should always clean up their mess? As if the United States has unlimited financial resources and don't mind sending their sons and daughters to their deaths when it suits their interests. Furthermore, Europe doesn't seem the least bit concerned about Putin's actions.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
3 replies
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