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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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jaydjet March 09 2014 at 7:55 PM

This in Russia I have always been taught would happen but I never believed it. Now I am hearing all this news. Putin used to be a BIG KGB and now he has gone back to his old tricks. This is very interesting to watch because alot of the people want to fight back. BUT, PUTIN will have his way.

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mphseason March 10 2014 at 9:52 AM

I can only hope that China decides it might be in their best interest to have that land a part of China.....Putin might be a bully....but China is the 1,000 piranhas coming on you.... especially if is a warm water port....they could import their oil much easier.....imo

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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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Jacquie March 10 2014 at 1:57 PM

" Tell Putin I'll have more flexibitity after the election"

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sugarcreekchile March 10 2014 at 7:08 PM

Ukraine with its present boundaries is an artifically created state, sharply divided along ethnic, regional, cultural and linguistic lines. After World War II, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union came to an agreement about the boundaries of Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine consisted mostly of areas that were formerly integral parts of the Russian empire. The western region composed of ethnic Ukrainians, who fought for the Nazis, was dominated for centuries, by the Polish, Lithuanian and Austro-Hungarian empires. Since the end of World War II, the borders of the Ukraine were set and did not include the Crimean peninsula. Crimea was gifted in 1954 by Krushchev, a Ukrainian, to Ukraine in honor of the 300th anniversary of a treaty that the tsar made in 1654 with the head of the Cossacks of Ukraine. Ukraine was a Soviet satellite at the time. This is the only basis for Ukraine's claim on Crimea.

Ethnic western Ukraine was a landlocked state. Historically, it tried several times to gain control of the Black Sea region and Crimea but never did. Ethnic western Ukrainians are not native to Crimea. Crimea has changed hands many times beginning with the Greeks, then Romans. The Tatars came to Crimea as part of the Golden Horde that invaded and controlled the region until routed by the Ottoman Turks. Catherine the Great took Crimea from the Ottoman Turks in 1783. She realised that the only way that Russia would hold on to Crimea in the long term was to change the population balance in favour of those sympathetic to the Russian cause and encouraged settlement there. By 1863, predominantly Russian immigrants outnumbered all others.

The ethnic western Ukrainians want Crimea and the Russian-speaking southern provinces to retain access to the Black Sea but the reality is that since the mid-1800's the population of the region is ethnically Russian. Ukraine's claim to Crimea has a tenuous validity. It's not their native territory or an area they ever won in a war, unless you count when they helped Hitler occupy it. The fact that it exists as an autonomous republic in Ukraine speaks volumes about Crimea's right to self-determination. How does Crimea, that is only part of Ukraine because it was gifted in 1954, violate any international law and lose its right to vote on its own fate? Crimea's been nothing but a political football that's been kicked around for centuries.

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reesadam March 10 2014 at 6:20 AM

@usajock9 - Crimea matters to Russia for several reasons. It provides a strategic seaport which will allow Russia to project it's power via trade vessels and war ships form the black sea in to the mediterranean, toward Europe and the west. It is located in a region with lots of natural gas (and it's wealth), as well as the associated pipelines to transport the gas. Recent Russian foreign policy has been based on energy exports to Europe to gain leverage -- and to use the proceeds to bankroll a more aggressive stance in the world. This has been coupled with well executed political moves aimed at the US, in particular by using Syria, Iran and North Korea to Russian advantage. Russian timing was engineered to be heels of the Olympic games, and immediately following US announcements about future military reductions. Russia made this move knowing full well there was little the US would be willing or able to do to affect the situation of Russia in the Crimean Peninsula, helping to advance a second Russian goal -- leaving the US position in the world to appear diminished. That is why Putin desires to acquire Crimea.

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eeodjo March 10 2014 at 2:01 PM

From past history, Nikita Kruschev, a prominent Soviet Leader in his time, gave Crimea to Ukraine. For what, I am not sure. But I think because Ukraine part of the USSR during WWII, helped the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany. Because of the 3-months of protests by the Ukranians, sparked by former president Yanukovych's decision to "DITCH" a SIGNIFICANT TREATY with the 28-nation European Union after a STRONG PRESSURE from Russia led to Yanukovych downfall. The actions from Kiev, Ukraine infuriated Putin and even told the British and German leaders that the western leaders FAILED TO PRESS the new government in Kiev to CURB Ultanationalist and Radical forces. So now, he believes that he is within International law to claim Crimea. Since there are more pro Russians in Crimea, why not let Russia have Crimea? That small area of Crimea is NOT WORTH the trouble of starting WWIII. However, if Putin gets ambitious like Hitler did, then that would be a different scenario. It would take a heavy dose of dipomacy from both sides and I hope it would only be diplomatic discussions.

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caacp live free March 10 2014 at 6:19 PM

"The latest apparent Russian military moves follow months of US-sponsored destabilization in Ukraine. This illegal and covert American interference has trampled all over Ukrainian sovereignty, which ironically Obama is now accusing his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of doing."

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1 reply
mrd1776 caacp live free March 10 2014 at 6:33 PM

Never ever expect any truth out of the liar Obama.

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2 replies
Keith mrd1776 March 10 2014 at 6:45 PM

At least he didn't tell us we would be responsible for the mushroom clouds over our cities if we didn't invade Iraq.

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mrd1776 mrd1776 March 10 2014 at 6:55 PM

No Keith, he did not nor did he tell us the chicken coops spotted by spy satellites were ready to rain down nukes on New York, nor that the missing WMDs were there hiding under his desk in the Oval Office. But you would never have caught me supporting the Bush Crime Family at any time.

Does not mean I would ever support the Marxist Socialist in OUR White House with an agenda to destroy the American middle-class. He is doing a good job at destroying, and you blind supporters and followers could care less.

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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.

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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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