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Putin formally gets Crimea; Ukraine, EU sign deal

Russia's Annexation Of Crimea Is Complete

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin completed his annexation of Crimea on Friday, signing the Black Sea peninsula into Russia just as Ukraine itself sealed a deal pulling the country closer into Europe's orbit.

Putin said he saw no need to further retaliate against U.S. sanctions, a newly conciliatory tone apparently aiming to contain one of the worst crises in Russia's relations with the West since the Cold War. His spokesman, however, later kept the Kremlin's warning open that it could consider various options.

At Ukrainian bases on the peninsula, troops hesitated, besieged by Russian forces and awaiting orders. Russia claimed some had already switched sides and agreed to join the Russian military. Friday had been the deadline for Ukrainian troops to leave Crimea, join the Russian military or demobilize.

Russia rushed the annexation of the strategic peninsula after Sunday's hastily called referendum in which its residents overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote, held two weeks after Russian troops had seized control of Crimea. The U.S. and EU have responded to the crisis by slapping sanctions on Russia.

Putin hailed the incorporation of Crimea into Russia as a "remarkable event" before he signed the parliament bills into law Friday in the Kremlin. He also ordered fireworks in Moscow and Crimea.

At nearly the same time in a ceremony in Brussels, Ukraine's new prime minister pulled his nation closer to Europe by signing a political association agreement with the European Union. It was the same deal that touched off Ukraine's political crisis, the deal that President Viktor Yanukovych rejected in November, igniting the months of protests that drove him from office and sent him fleeing to Russia.

"Russia decided to actually impose a new post-Cold War order and revise the results of the Second World War," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Brussels. "The best way to contain Russia is to impose real economic leverage over them."

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a second round of sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin's inner circle and a major bank supporting them.

Moscow retaliated by banning nine U.S. officials and lawmakers from entering Russia, but Putin indicated that Russia would likely refrain from curtailing cooperation in areas such as Afghanistan. Moscow appears to hope to limit the damage.

But the latest U.S. sanctions, which targeted Putin's chief of staff along with other senior Kremlin aides and four businessmen considered to be his lifelong friends, dealt a painful blow to Russia. Obama also warned that more sweeping penalties against Russia's economy, including its robust energy sector, could follow.

International rating agencies downgraded Russia's outlook and Russian stocks tumbled Friday.

"The economic impact of the sanctions is already visible - on the stock exchange, the value of the Ruble, the investment climate," EU President Herman Van Rompuy told VRT network.

Putin tried to play down the sanctions' toll on Russia at Friday's televised session of the presidential Security Council.

"We should keep our distance from those people who compromise us," he said, a jocular reference to the officials on the sanctions list, some of whom attended the meeting.

Putin added sardonically that he would open an account to keep his salary in the targeted Bank Rossiya, a private bank that is owned by Yuri Kovalchuk, considered to be Putin's longtime friend and banker. With about $10 billion in assets, Rossiya ranks as the 17th-largest bank in Russia and maintains numerous ties to banks in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

At the same time, Putin said he sees no immediate need for further Russian retaliation to the U.S. sanction.

"We must refrain from retaliatory steps for now," Putin said.

But Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later said that Russia would retaliate to the latest U.S. sanctions.

"We will react every time. We responded to the first round of sanctions, and we will respond to those too," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. He did not elaborate.

Russia is expected to play a major role in the planned withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces from Afghanistan later this year by providing transit corridors via its territory, and Putin seemed to indicate that the Kremlin at this stage has no intentions of shutting the route.

Moscow also appeared to be warming to the deployment of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the top trans-Atlantic security and rights group.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would welcome sending the OSCE observers to Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine on condition that their number and locations are clearly set, but he made it clear that they wouldn't be let into Crimea.

In Crimea, heavily armed Russian forces and pro-Russia militia have blocked Ukrainian military at their bases for weeks. Following Sunday's referendum they have moved aggressively to flush the Ukrainians out, storming some ships and military facilities.

The Ukrainian government said it was drawing up plans to evacuate its outnumbered troops from Crimea, but many soldiers still remained. At the Ukrainian military air base in Belbek, outside Sevastopol, Col. Yuly Mamchur told reporters Friday he was still waiting for orders from his commanders on whether to vacate.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday told Putin that 72 Ukrainian military units in Crimea have decided to join the Russian military. His claim couldn't be independently confirmed.

Amid its political crisis, Ukraine is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, struggling to pay off billions of dollars in debts in the coming months. The U.S. and the European Union have pledged to quickly offer a bailout.

It owes Russia $2 billion in overdue payments for natural gas supplies. Putin made it clear that Russia will further raise the heat on Ukraine by urging it to pay back a $3 billion bailout loan granted to Yanukovych in December.

In addition, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested that Russia should reclaim $11 billion in gas rebates it gave Ukraine in exchange for a deal extending Russia's lease on its navy base in Crimea until 2042. Medvedev argued that since Crimea is part of Russia now, the deal is void.

---

Mike Corder and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium and John-Thor Dahlburg in Sevastopol, Crimea, contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Join the discussion

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johnnysul64 March 21 2014 at 11:03 AM

Yeah, "Our President" as some ESPN @zz kissers call him.
Has made a brilliant pick of Michigan State winning it all in the basketball tournament.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
Lance johnnysul64 March 21 2014 at 11:08 AM

Well to obama basketball is more important than America and the people.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
big dog Lance March 21 2014 at 11:25 AM

spoken like a true hater
go drink some more of that poisoned tea

Flag 0 rate up
b740g March 21 2014 at 12:29 PM

Once again, Mitt Romney was correct! We could be working on a better economy, repair the ACA bill and get more people employed. Obama's first election was a fluke, the second election was a major mistake for Americans and America.
While the rest of the world laughs at us, there are still those who defend this corupt, inept administration.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
Sensible b740g March 21 2014 at 12:35 PM

Fluke? Wake up and smell the coffee.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Sensible March 21 2014 at 12:34 PM

Let's annex Canada.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
seventythreenova March 21 2014 at 12:36 PM

Geez aol.... what ever happened to free speech? I do not find it amusing to have 2 messages deleted from the same thread. Step right up, talk bad about Barry O and get your comments deleted.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Scotty March 21 2014 at 12:41 PM

Thank you President Obama. We all thank you for your failure as our leader.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
martinhanl March 21 2014 at 12:43 PM

When is the British going to give up the Falklands or Northern Ireland..........when is the U.S. going to give up Okinawa or it's bases in Saudia Arabia or Germany or Guantanamo etc....so whats with all the phoeey hypocrisy abpout Crimea....considering the Russian Imperial Navy is located there?...

Also the United States and the C.I.A. had no problem with a military coup in Egpt where thousands of protester's were gunned down in the streets with U.S. made weapon's after a Democratic election produced a freely elected leader who we didn't want!! And also the coup in Chile with Allende being murdered...........Ridiculous cynical posturing..........I have to say Putin has a point!

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PL March 21 2014 at 12:46 PM

It's like telling a first grader we have given him the honor to bake a beautiful cake for a country we love.

We put him in the kitchen only to find he decided to have fun instead. The kitchen is destroyed.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Buddy Maxwell March 21 2014 at 4:32 PM

We may only wish all the noise will be droned out, and peace will ensue, or else!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
cherie4re March 21 2014 at 1:01 PM

Obama threating Putin is laughable!
And whatever happened to your apology tour Obama? how did that work out for ya? IDIOT

Flag Reply +5 rate up
tomidesmar March 21 2014 at 1:02 PM

It's as simple as this...
Putin drew a line in the sand. He didn't want Crimea to become aligned with the West. The people who protested so loudly last month may be having second thoughts now. They got their freedom but they lost Crimea. Russia always had legitimate claims to Crimea since it was aligned with them as part of the USSR and they have a big Navy base there on the Black sea that they did not want to see sitting in a different country with ties to the West. Can you blame them. We see now that Ukraine, minus Crimea has already signed a treaty aligning them more closely with western Europe and the US. Obama's sanctions will amount to nothing. It's a done deal. It was none of our business in the first place.

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