Putin signs treaty to annex Crimea into Russia

BY Justin Scuiletti  March 18, 2014 at 3:50 PM EST

Video by the Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside several Crimean officials, signed a treaty Tuesday to incorporate the Ukraine region of Crimea into Russia days after a referendum overwhelmingly approved the annexation.

Putin, in a live 40-minute televised speech, reaffirmed Russia’s connection to the region. “In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This commitment, based on truth and justice, was firm, was passed from generation to generation.”

The president described the new Ukrainian government as driven by radical “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites,” but argued that he had no interest in invading further regions of Ukraine. Relations with “the brotherly Ukrainian people,” he said, remain “important and crucial” to Russia. Putin did, however, compare Crimea’s secession to Ukraine’s own secession from the Soviet Union in 1991.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in Poland, called Russia’s annexation a “land grab,” despite Russia’s attempts to argue otherwise. “But the world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic behind those actions.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague called the move “regrettable,” saying that Putin had chosen “the route of isolation” and denied the citizens of Russia partnership with the international community.

Dimitri Simes, president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest, said the Obama administration has been counter-productive in its handling of Russia’s moves in the Crimea by issuing provocative ultimatums to Russia from a position of weakness: not being prepared to use force if needed.

“This is President Putin’s fault, but the administration has contributed to this crisis,” said Simes. Now, the administration should make clear to Putin that the United States is not going to accept that Crimea is part of Russia, and that it takes seriously Putin’s statements that he has no plans to invade Eastern Ukraine, he said.

Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, however, said the Obama administration has acted in step with the Europeans and presumably helped push along the united European response.

“It acted quickly to recognize the new Ukrainian government and give it imprimatur of a Washington visit,” she said. The United States has imposed sanctions, which are modestly significant, and leaves room for escalation if necessary, she added.