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Putin hails 'return' of Crimea; fighting kills 3

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP) - Presiding over a triumphant spectacle of warships and fighter jets, President Vladimir Putin hailed the return of Crimea to Russia as the restoration of "historic justice" before a jubilant, welcoming crowd Friday on the holiday that Russians hold dearest to their hearts.

Yet Putin's first trip to the Black Sea peninsula since its annexation in March was strongly criticized by both NATO and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, which said it trampled on Ukraine's sovereignty and international law.

To the east, at least three people died and the main police station in the city of Mariupol was set ablaze in fierce fighting Friday between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels. The government said up to 20 people were killed, including one policeman.

Ukraine is struggling with its most serious crisis in decades as pro-Russia insurgents in the east are fighting the central government in Kiev and preparing to hold a referendum Sunday on secession.

Putin's two Victory Day celebrations, which included a massive show of military muscle in the annual Red Square parade in Moscow and another in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, rubbed salt in the wounds of the interim government in Kiev without ever once mentioning its name.

Victory Day is Russia's most important secular holiday and a key element of the country's national identity, honoring the armed forces and the millions who died in World War II. This year it comes as Russia is locked in the worst crisis with the West since the end of the Cold War.

Tens of thousands flooded the Crimean port of Sevastopol to watch the extravaganza that was the Russian leader's entrance. Putin boarded a boat to sail past a line of Russian Black Sea Fleet ships anchored in the bay and greeted their crews before watching a flyby of 70 military aircraft.

In his speech, Putin hailed the incorporation of Crimea's 2 million people into Russia as "return to the Motherland" and a tribute to the "historical justice and the memory of our ancestors."

The peninsula had been transferred to Ukraine in 1954 during Soviet times and remained under Ukrainian control until the March annexation, which has not been acknowledged by the West or Kiev.

Fighting exploded Friday in Mariupol, a city of 500,000 on the Sea of Azov that is on the main road between Russia proper and Crimea.

An Associated Press journalist saw three dead bodies near the police station, including one policeman. The Donetsk regional administration said in a statement that 3 people were killed and 25 wounded during the fighting.

But Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement that 20 "terrorists" and one police officer were killed in the fighting that erupted after 60 gunmen tried to capture the police station and were rebuffed by police and the military.

Avakov said the government was ready to negotiate with those in the east who want to sit down for talks but vowed to destroy those who take up arms. He promised not to let Ukraine "turn into a burning buffer zone, where death will become the norm."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, repeated his stance that Crimea was not part of Russia .

"We consider the Russian annexation of Crimea to be illegal, illegitimate and we don't recognize it," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Tallinn, Estonia. "We still consider Crimea as Ukrainian territory and from my knowledge the Ukrainian authorities haven't invited Putin to visit Crimea, so from that point of view his visit to Crimea is inappropriate."

Earlier in Moscow, Putin watched as about 11,000 Russian troops proudly marched across Red Square to the tunes of marches and patriotic songs. They were followed by columns of dozens of tanks and rocket launchers as some 70 combat aircraft, including giant nuclear-capable strategic bombers, roared overhead.

The parading troops on Red Square included one marine unit from the Black Sea Fleet, which flew the Crimean flag on its armored personnel carriers.

The Red Square parade, which featured massive Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, came a day after Putin watched a massive military exercise that simulated a retaliatory nuclear strike in response to an enemy attack.

The West and the Ukrainian government accuse Russia of fomenting the unrest in Ukraine's east, where insurgents have seized government buildings in a dozen of cities and towns. The insurgents are holding a referendum on independence Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions - an area that encompasses 6.5 million people. The vote is similar to a plebiscite that paved the way for Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Putin's surprise call Wednesday for the rebels to delay the referendum appeared to reflect Russia's desire to distance itself from the separatists as it bargains with the West. But insurgents in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east defied Putin's call and said they would go ahead anyway.

Putin also said that Russia had withdrawn its forces from the Ukrainian border, but Pentagon and NATO repeated again that they had seen no evidence of a pullback. NATO has said Russia has tens of thousands of troops in regions along Ukraine's border, and Ukraine fears Russia could invade and grab more territory.

"We still don't have visible evidence of Russian withdrawal of troops from Ukraine's border," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters Friday. "I would be the first to welcome it if Russian troops were pulled out."

Russia wants Ukraine to adopt a new constitution that would give broad powers to its regions, helping Moscow to keep the country's east in its orbit. It also has sought guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO. Ukraine has rejected the Russian demands.

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lamberto Zannier visited Kiev on Friday and criticized the referendum in the east, calling it a "divisive initiative."

The United States and the European Union have slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Putin's entourage in response to the annexation of Crimea.

Despite the sanctions, Putin is set to travel to France in early June for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that hastened the end of World War II, his first encounter with Western leaders since the start of the Ukrainian crisis.

Join the discussion

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JimFish May 09 2014 at 4:29 PM

send in willie nelson,he'll kick putins' BUTT. rollin

Flag Reply +1 rate up
renner1234 May 09 2014 at 3:38 PM

Maybe, just maybe Obama should take note on how to be a leader.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
6 replies
DAN PATEL May 09 2014 at 3:38 PM

he has taken the eastern ukrain issue to let the west forget wat he did in crimea. the west needs to show military power in the neighbouring countries. he is like a poor mans hitler.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
vladswim May 09 2014 at 3:35 PM

The Ukrainian crisis is all about taxes!


Flag Reply +1 rate up
brillig51 May 09 2014 at 3:33 PM

Let's talk about oil

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
dfry006 brillig51 May 09 2014 at 3:36 PM

Nope, 600 million monkeys in America would like to talk about Commie Putin.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
vigoddess dfry006 May 09 2014 at 4:19 PM

600 million monkeys dfry606 have a greater intelligence than not talking
about a nut job like Putin who is also a nuke power, or is survival not
on your priority list. People are scared, including the Russian people who
are looking at an army that threatens them as well if they do not do what
this dictator wants, and the guy is a nut job all together and God knows
how much if he's following Hitler's agenda, only he's persecuting his
own people - not just a minority group.
Wake up and stop calling people monkeys for giving survival a priority.

Flag +2 rate up
dfry006 dfry006 May 09 2014 at 4:30 PM

All you have to do is wear a condom over your brain (your = entire population I mean).
The condom should save your brain from a brain-rape by your government, and then I promise you, you won't have to worry or be afraid of Putin and his nukes.
Again, the secrete is: WEAR A condom ON YOUR BRAIN. Everything will be fine.

Flag 0 rate up
frozenbull May 09 2014 at 3:32 PM

Oh well I guess he won this one . The West was out smarted and out witted . All I heard the West say No no no . ,you can't do that . And Putin just said watch me . End of story . And as for the show of military might , we do it all the time . He played the US and the EU like a fiddle .

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
Vito frozenbull May 09 2014 at 3:59 PM

that is NO BALLS obama at his best.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
vobox3343 frozenbull May 09 2014 at 4:01 PM

Actually, because Of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, we had no moral ground to stand on.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
Vito vobox3343 May 09 2014 at 5:00 PM

here we go again blame Bush, can't take responesability.

Flag 0 rate up
sandinbox vobox3343 May 09 2014 at 5:06 PM

Please please Iraq and Ukraine are two different situations...We have no moral ground to stand on??? Sadam was killing his own people. iraq wanted us to get him. What do you call morality is what I want to know. Allowing a murdering dictator to kill anyone he wants to whenever he wants to. learn about something befor eyou open you're idealogue mouth.

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Camp Bulldog May 09 2014 at 3:32 PM

When I take a very close look at him....I can only see a very negative future for him.

Not sure how...where...or when....it just won't be good...

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
vladswim Camp Bulldog May 09 2014 at 3:36 PM

You've been watching too many Hollywood movies

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Charlie May 09 2014 at 3:29 PM

Just have the commie assinated!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
sandinbox Charlie May 09 2014 at 5:07 PM

Go Navy seals. They got Osama!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ardeiat May 09 2014 at 3:28 PM

Victory Day is not alone a sovjet merit, as they use to say ! Without the Allies, Russia would have been today a Nazi territory! As "thank giving" for their sacrifice, you can note the anti-american and anti-european attitude Putin's! Never help Russia!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
Camp Bulldog ardeiat May 09 2014 at 3:30 PM

That is very true....the US supplied the Soviets with a war machine...to fight Hitler

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
dfry006 Camp Bulldog May 09 2014 at 3:33 PM

Very true is one biological fact: worms have no brains.

Flag +3 rate up
astronauty ardeiat May 10 2014 at 1:07 AM

We were once allies.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
kdarmon58 May 09 2014 at 3:28 PM

I hope putin hears the drone before it takes him out.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
psvi kdarmon58 May 09 2014 at 3:44 PM

our dumbo eared leader,and I use the term loosely,doesn't have the guts unless one of his handlers or his wife tells him to

Flag Reply +3 rate up
3 replies
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