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In signing treaty, Putin declares Crimea has always been ‘inseparable’ part of Russia

March 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
Vladimir Putin Signs Crimea Annex Treaty
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GWEN IFILL: The annexation of Crimea by Russia became all but final today, after a signing ceremony and a fiery speech in Moscow.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner, traveling in Ukraine, reports on the day’s developments.  

MARGARET WARNER: With a stroke of his pen, Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed a treaty, adding Crimea to the map of Russia. It followed an emotional address, as a defiant Putin told his Parliament he acted legally to right a historical wrong.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. Both time and circumstances could not erase it. Dramatic changes that our country went through in the 20th century could not erase it either.

MARGARET WARNER: Putin dismissed Western claims that Crimea’s referendum Sunday, to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, was illegitimate. He also rejected any suggestion that Russia means to seize other parts of Ukraine.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): Do not believe those who try to scare you about Russia. Who is shouting that Crimea will be followed by other regions? We do not want the division of Ukraine. We do not need it.

MARGARET WARNER: It was only two weeks ago that Putin made similar comments, denying any plans to take over Crimea. Today’s speech was watched with great interest in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

Immediately afterward, workmen removed all references to Ukraine from the part of the parliament building.

We were on the street there sampling opinion.

GALINA BURAVLYOVA, (through interpreter): We are incredibly grateful that this day of victory has arrived, and we have been freed from occupation. Now we are citizens of our own country, Russia.

MARGARET WARNER: Most Crimeans seemed overjoyed by Putin’s swift move to join this peninsula with Russia. In reacting to what may prove to be the most significant speech by a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War, they cheered his declaration that Moscow would move to defend ethnic Russians elsewhere.

In Kiev, the Putin speech sparked a decidedly different reaction from the new president of Ukraine.

OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, Acting President, Ukraine (through interpreter): I would like to remind you of the history: World War II started with the annexation of the territory of other countries by fascist Germany. Today, the president of Russia, Mr. Putin, who likes to talk about fascism, is copying the fascists of the last century.

MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops moved toward Crimea, where a military spokesman said a service member had been killed when armed men stormed a Ukrainian military base.

But in a televised speech, Ukraine’s interim prime minister sought to reassure the Kremlin that his country will not join NATO.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Acting Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): Despite Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, I will do everything possible to uphold peace and build relations of partnership. The question of joining NATO is not on the agenda.

The country will be defended by a strong, modern Ukrainian army.

MARGARET WARNER: Russia’s actions drew new condemnation from the West. Vice President Joe Biden met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Warsaw.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Russia has offered a variety of arguments to justify what is nothing more than a land grab, including what was said today. But the world has seen through, has seen through Russia’s action, and has rejected the logic, the flawed logic, behind those actions.

MARGARET WARNER: Biden vowed, the U.S. commitment to its Eastern European allies is ironclad.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced his country is suspending military cooperation with Russia. And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Russia has been suspended from the Group of Eight industrialized nations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected U.S. and European sanctions as unacceptable.

In a phone call, he warned Secretary of State John Kerry of unspecified consequences. Kerry, in turn, warned this afternoon against any further territorial moves by the Russians.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I’m not going to go into the details, except to say that that would be as egregious as any step that I can think of that could be taken by a country in today’s world, particularly by a country like Russia, where so much is at stake.

MARGARET WARNER: But no warning appears likely to stay Moscow’s hand in Crimea at least. The Russian Parliament is expected to formally ratify the annexation within days.

GWEN IFILL: Judy takes a closer look at what Moscow might do next, right after the news summary.