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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.

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Lauderdale Sand March 10 2014 at 3:08 PM

Take the US military down to give more food stamps? Really?

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1 reply
ramonbatt Lauderdale Sand March 10 2014 at 3:34 PM

If United States military were in Crimea? They would be in Russia side because us military has no commender and Chief! With have a chicken with broken beak!

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heylistenup1955 March 10 2014 at 12:29 PM

I wish I understood this whole thing better..... The Russians may be making a push to pull the Crimea from Ukraine into Russia,no doubt. But just 20 years ago, Russia, Ukraine, and the Crimea were all part of the Soviet Union. And for hundreds of years before that, all were part f the Russian Empire. So there is a lot of shared history here that perhaps we do not all understand. I read that 78% of the citizens in the Crimea are Russian, that the Crimean parliament voted virtually unanimously to join Russia, and a region-wide referendum is scheduled to allow the rest of the population to vote on what they want.
The relationship between Russia, Ukraine, and the Crimea is complex -- the Russian czars had their summer homes in the Crimea, Khruschev was born in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
One thing is for sure: with the way the U.S. government is blowing hot air and making idle threats, we are going to come off as a bunch of weanies if the Crimea ends up swinging over to Russia, cuz there won't be a thing we can do about it but whine.
Kind of reminds me of when Stalin and the Pope got into it back in the 1940s with the Pope making a pronouncement on how the Soviet Union should be operating. Stalin's response was "and how many army divisions does the Pope have?"

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jareksimek March 10 2014 at 12:29 PM

O yeah and endless G8,6,4 Summit

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allstarcaps March 10 2014 at 12:27 PM

What's the last thing a mob hit man says before he puts a bullet in your brain?..."Hey, it's nuthin' personal - it's just bizness!" Business as usual in a corporate world - Merger's, Acquisition's, and Hostile Takeover's.

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YourFtr March 10 2014 at 12:26 PM

Part of my job is to make up for mental or moral deficiencies in the Obama regime.

Also, part of this is for my Presidential campaign in 2016 !!

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Michael March 10 2014 at 12:19 PM

How unfortunate there is a "global economy" and a appologetic president. Having Putin in any way be able to cause economic damage to the U.S. is totally unacceptable! Add to that, having an appologetic president here equals in "the worlds eye" as signs of weakness. With Russia owing the U.S. billions of dollars (42 billion I think) and threaten too stop payments to U.S. banks because of any sactions we may impose on them in order to cause damage to the U.S. economy is totally unacceptable! The U.S. is no longer a "super power" and it's our own fault! Our illustrious leaders over the years have allowed other countries the ability to threaten the U.S. Putin is obviously a communist at heart and is the leader of an unstable country with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. How unfortunate that the U.S. now has to "kiss ass" to other countries, especially Russia who we send food and money (money we have to borrow to give away), and then to have any threats made is unacceptable! It is ashame that countries, even our "allies" sit back and laugh at the U.S. as we keep sending them aide because we "feel bad" for them, and we keep givving them "ammunition" for more ridicule!
The U.S. is being bled to death with great success and it is being allowed. Our illustrious leaders keep putting spot bandaides on gapping wounds.
Please people...sit back and take a LONG look at what has and is going on! The Roman Empire fell and how totally ashame it is that the U.S. is following suit. We can no longer be "saviors of the world" as the U.S. has already "given away" the country as a result of all the "do gooders".

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1 reply
generalcabinetry Michael March 10 2014 at 12:29 PM

Who cares what the rest of the world thinks lets get America our world fixed first then worry about others, America is only as strong as a good economy, keep republicans out of office, don't enter wars we cant win and mind our own freakin business, with any luck we can sort out a good economy afford to grow great again and not spend what money we have left from the republican warlords near bankrupting the country trying to keep face with the rest of the world. Use common sense not testosterone to make decisions.

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magus47 March 10 2014 at 12:19 PM

Boy this whole mess must have the Wahington chicken hawks going crazy. They can'y do anything about it. Look at a map. We can't very well send troops in can we? And this time the enemy, Russia, actually DOES have an army, navy and airforce, unlike our OTHER silly wars, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But don't worry none. Although a LOT of people will die it won't be the politicians or their kids. No sir, THEY will be safe, Thank goodness. And it won't be THEIR trillions that get wasted. Hell No THEY will make a HUGE profit out of this.

Soon we will see the great propagada machine spin up. How somehow Russia invading the Ukraine ENDANGERS our security. And this great nation of sheep will eat it all up and docily walk into the slaughter.

Here's a CRAZY idea! How about the US Govermnet sit down and slove OUR problems before they worry about others?
Read AMERICA WHAT WENT WRONG AND HOW TO FIX IT, now available as a kindle book.

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Walt March 10 2014 at 12:14 PM

I HAVE ALWAYS COMPARED THE RUSSIANS TO US, WHITE, AGGRESSIVE LOVE THE ARETS, AND HAVE NO QUAMS INVADING ANOTHER COUNTRY. I FOUGHT COMMUNISM IN VIENTAM, HOWEVER IT WAS NOT WORTH 60,000+ LIVES; FOR WHAT. REALLY FOR WHAT, THE DOMINO THEORY, WHICH WAS A LIE...NEED TO REMEMBER WE INVADE COUNTRIES, BECAUSE THEIR LEADER IS (BAD GUYS), REALLY IT IS ALWAYS ABOUT OIL, OR RUBBER, OR POWER.

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ernie March 10 2014 at 12:13 PM

I agree with Mike Savage. We live in a different world today, Reagan is dead. Cold War is over. My opinion is that the United States, the country I fought for during war time, has butted its nose into more places in one year than Russia has in fifty. Politicians acting like long dead Reagan won't cure the problem.

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1 reply
kcarthey ernie March 10 2014 at 1:14 PM

Heck, Reagan caused most of the problems with have today starting with cutting and running from the ME terrorists and ending with his doing NOTHING when the Russians murdered 250 Americans in a single jet.

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specialistpi March 09 2014 at 7:07 PM

With tensions building in Ukraine, after Western-backed Neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalists, and other assorted bigots, hooligans, and militants overran the elected government in Kiev, the “Russian invasion of Georgia” narrative has been reanimated, admissions of its inaccuracy quickly forgotten, and is being used as an analogy to peddle the newly christened “Russian invasion of Ukraine” narrative.

However, once again, Russia is not “invading” anything. Long before the West began sowing political chaos in Kiev, Russian troops had long been permanently stationed within the country. Ukraine, and in particular, eastern Ukraine including the Crimea peninsula, share a common heritage, history, linguistics, socioeconomic interests, and defense agreements both past and present.

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1 reply
Laurie specialistpi March 09 2014 at 7:25 PM

Semantics, specialistpi. Insinuating that Putin hasn't added many additional troops is laughable. Ukraine has been separate from Russia for almost 60 years. This isn't kindergarten; you just don't walk in to a country with massive weaponry and demand it back. There are literally people's lives at stake.

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