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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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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
vtmilitia March 09 2014 at 4:02 PM

We had to save our brothers and sisters in the Sudetenland er Crimea.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
The Elizabeth March 09 2014 at 4:03 PM

I have no say. Polical leaders on all sides due what they want according to their own interests. Common people don't have any power. So it makes not difference what I say on these issues. I just hope the leaders can keep their ambitions in check so that WW3 doesn't break out and wipe us all out as there will be no winners. In other conflicts the countries didn't possess the weapons that could wipe out the world as both the US and Russia has. I hope the leaders will know that and not rely on the yes men that surrounds both camps in their tight cacoons in governments. Ok I gave you my say. I am a believer so I put in HIS hands and not in people. HE is in control so I don't worry or think about it. Bye

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chicagoibc March 09 2014 at 2:31 PM

A Referendum so fast? And where is the "White Paper" detailing all the pros and cons to the issue for the Ukrainians, and residents of the Crimea? Governmental, economic, social, educational, legal and Constitutional, energy...so many issues not addressed by a simplistic Referendum vote coming under military pressure from Russia...a Bum's Rush to Judgment to be sure. Reminds me of Chicago City Council votes.
Tom Jacobs, Chicago

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tortugatommie March 09 2014 at 3:55 PM

Watch this youtube video and learn some of the
hidden truth regarding the lying imposter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t5RMWyGlr0

Flag Reply +2 rate up
herbschober March 09 2014 at 3:38 PM

My Opinion.. PUTIN is a barf bag.. hasn't anyone remembered (UNLESS MY MEMORY IS FAILING) that HE is the one that allowed all his submarine sailors to die (instead of allowing other countries to help) Lets NOT FORGET THAT.. IN MY BOOK ... THAT IS MURDER!!! And doubly sad those sailors were HIS people.!!!!

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1 reply
green gate farm herbschober March 09 2014 at 3:54 PM

Your comment reminds me of the similiarity of leaders allowing their own to die. We have our own politicians that endorse abortion and assisited suicide.They write legislation that is in conflict with morality and are trying to convince people that murder is acceptable in certain circumstances because they say so. In my opinion no one has the right to tell another it is ok to kill and call it law.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
kcarthey green gate farm March 09 2014 at 3:58 PM

But do people have the right to make laws that affect the decisions individuals make about their own lives and bodies?

Flag +3 rate up
elysianfields08 March 09 2014 at 2:27 PM

KOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

Flag Reply +1 rate up
jborsi March 09 2014 at 3:55 PM

Brainwashing FOLKS 101

Flag Reply +2 rate up
maxcranium March 09 2014 at 3:36 PM

He knows that things are going to get hot soon.
So he dug in a little early...

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mglowa March 09 2014 at 4:18 PM

The media has turned a blind eye to history as to why so many people of Russian heritage live in the Ukraine. Without knowing the history, the current conflict between Russians and Ukrainians cannot be properly understood.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Kat4Hat mglowa March 09 2014 at 4:19 PM

Some people are so arrogant and ignorant; they have one single agenda and this is it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
John Matthew March 09 2014 at 3:39 PM

There really needs to be a unified statement from the EU. Their seems to be alot of hedging on their end. They need to deal with the crisis. It's their hood! For once it would be great for the US to sit back and see where Europe wants to take this not the reverse behind the coat tails of the US and our saying where we want it to go! It's really time for some isolation on our part for a change. The age old saying of "pick and choose your battles" coupled with "is this a hill worth dying for" applies. The real question to the EU and the UN should be from our stand point is "what do you want from us?" The US doesn't have to prove a damn thing to Russia! If Putin thinks his a bigger bully on the street then ok. Let him think that. I don't think he is going to go to war over Ukraine. Again I don't understand why we need to be the first to speak out on everything. Obama loves to speak out and find a podium anywhere to do it. Sometimes it's scarier yet when you don't say anything!!! Why because it has the oppossition wondering. It's time for the UN to designate another world policeman then the US and for us to be more like China...meaning...don't mess with us...or we will crush you.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
mmajeps John Matthew March 09 2014 at 4:02 PM

This is no different than the beginnings of WWII.. Appeasing until the EU is directly affected.
The US needs to focus massive support to the EU and let them take the lead on resolution and the US needs to stop honoring all treaties, pacts and whatever with Russia and focus their efforts with Countries that have shown trust in the past.... Most words are useless and actions are more important. The most important words are Speak softly and carry a big Stick

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