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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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jeff March 10 2014 at 10:26 AM

All Obama will launch is a "special envoy" and then continue to fund raise. Jimmy Carter Obama.

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1 reply
CLIFTON jeff March 10 2014 at 10:34 AM

IDIOT

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mazdapub March 09 2014 at 5:30 PM

hey cotone1. Why don't you go over there and do it yourself.

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Lauderdale Sand March 10 2014 at 3:05 PM

Obama needs to take a page from Putin's book. Putin has stayed out of other country's affairs and concentrated on making Russia stronger and richer. To his credit it has worked. Learn from it, Obama.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
vinneyelias7461 March 09 2014 at 4:49 PM

Innocent US citizen being bomardment under illegal covert operation in/and by US with (DEW) Directed energy weapon/Very painful by (15 years duration-

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1 reply
vinneyelias7461 vinneyelias7461 March 09 2014 at 4:57 PM

But remain to true to my country: Let the Nation of Crimea become a United Nations Mandate until negotiations bring forth positive results for all concerned-Vinney/US-

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David W. Doubet March 09 2014 at 7:12 PM

As long as the referrendum is U.N. supervised; otherwise, we will never no if the vote was by the people of the Crimea and not the work of the Chechen rebels

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1 reply
Kat4Hat David W. Doubet March 09 2014 at 8:56 PM

The Chechen rebels are busy with Yarosh.

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dxjj1 March 09 2014 at 4:50 PM

Always was and will always be about the money and power . from the beginning of man until
the end and start over again?

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prunceprastic March 09 2014 at 7:10 PM

Thing is the boy lied initially stating he did not move in and those were NOT his troops.

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Ol Bob March 10 2014 at 2:03 PM

Simple geography. Putin knows Russia must have a sea port a little farther from the boreal pole than he can get on Russian territory. We're not likely to talk him out of it. The crisis will drag on until the West grows weary and lets him have Crimea. Of course, this will only be the first round.

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1 reply
mrd1776 Ol Bob March 10 2014 at 2:08 PM

Well Putin already had Crimea by the 1997 Partition Treaty with Ukraine until 2042. But then Obama and his CIA tried to illegally screw with that and Putin had to step in to block Obama's illegal acts once again. This criminal in OUR White House really needs to be impeached and sent off to prison where he belongs.

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2 replies
Mike & Jeannie mrd1776 March 10 2014 at 2:32 PM

Truly, a patriotic stand for an American so poorly informed to take.

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mrd1776 mrd1776 March 10 2014 at 3:03 PM

Oh really Mike & Jeannie? In your complete ignorance, can you point to one item in my post which is untrue? The Partition Treaty is easily researched. Russia did not invade Crimea. As a VietNam veteran, I know for a fact that Kennedy and his CIA "arranged" the assassination of Diem to start off the illegal Vietnam War. I also know that the US has toppled and assassinated leaders of nations for decades. Saddam Hussein is a well known example. So you think we should blindly support our own criminal or war criminal leaders?

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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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aoversier March 09 2014 at 11:59 PM

Another failure by POTUS..............they just keep on coming.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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