Seizing of Crimea corrects past injustices, Putin says

Defiant Russian leader announces the swift annexation of region

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MOSCOW -- Invoking the suffering of the Russian people and a narrative of constant betrayals by the West, President Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday that Russia was within its rights to reclaim Crimea, then signed a treaty that did just that.

Mr. Putin, defiant in the face of U.S. and European pressure, dispensed with legal deliberation and announced a swift annexation of Crimea, as if to put Europe's most serious crisis in decades beyond the point where the results could be turned back.

In a speech to a joint session of the Russian parliament, he compared the move to the independence declaration of Kosovo in 2008 and the reunification of Germany in 1990 -- but, in reality, this is the first time that one European nation has seized territory from another since the end of World War II.

"Crimea is our common legacy," Mr. Putin said. "It can only be Russian today."

In Kiev, Ukrainian officials said they would never recognize or accept the loss of Crimea. Western leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to Poland and Lithuania, talked about further sanctions against Russia on top of those announced in the past two days. Russia is also facing expulsion from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations as relations between Moscow and the West reach their lowest level since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In Crimea, where celebrations were held to mark the Russian annexation, a Ukrainian lieutenant was fatally shot in an incident that immediately set nerves on edge.

Mr. Putin declared that Russia has no interest in expanding its hold within Ukraine. "Don't believe those who say Russia will take other regions after Crimea. We don't need that," he said.

But he also said Russia would always be ready to stand up for the rights of fellow Russians living in other countries. He mentioned, seemingly in passing, that Russians in eastern Ukraine, in the cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk, had been subject to the same sort of abuse at the hands of Ukrainian nationalists that he said had led him to act on Crimea.

Mr. Putin's speech, nearly 50 minutes long, catalogued 20 years of Russian complaints about the West. He touched on the Soviet Union's downfall, Kosovo, NATO expansion, missile defense, Libya, Iraq and Syria. He said the West has been backing Ukrainians responsible for "terror, murder and riots," including neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and Russophobes.

"Our Western partners have crossed a line," he said. "We have every reason to think that the notorious policy of confining Russia, pursued in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today."

Mr. Putin said the challenge presented to Russia by the Ukrainian crisis couldn't be ducked. "We have to admit one thing -- Russia is an active participant in international affairs," he said. "At these critical times, we see the maturity of nations, the strength of nations."

One factor that forced Russia to act, he said, was the threat that Ukraine, under its new leaders, might join NATO -- which would have left Russia's Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, in an untenable position.

Mr. Putin insisted that Russia is acting within international law. He complained that leaders in the West, led by the Americans, "believe they've been entrusted by God to decide the fate of other people."

The sanctions already announced by the United States, the European Union and Canada were treated with derision Tuesday by Russian Parliament members. They passed a unanimous resolution calling upon the West to include every Russian legislature member on the sanctions list.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian armaments industry, said Moscow needs to take up the cause of ethnic Russians in Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria, which has been outside Moldova's control since the early 1990s. Now that Moldova is moving to sign an agreement with the European Union, Mr. Rogozin said, it is time for Russia to act. Mr. Rogozin is one of 11 Russians and Ukrainians on the U.S. sanctions list announced Monday.

Ecstatic Russian lawmakers watched as Mr. Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty of accession as soon as the Russian leader had finished speaking, and the Kremlin afterward said it considers the treaty to be in force, though it awaits ratification by parliament. The city of Sevastopol also entered the Russian Federation, as a separate entity -- a status it traditionally enjoyed as an important military center.

In the early evening, Mr. Putin addressed a large celebratory rally on Red Square. "After a difficult, long and exhausting journey, Crimea and Sevastopol have returned to Russia -- to their home harbor, their home shores, their home port," he said.

In Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk gave a nationally televised address Tuesday -- pointedly using the Russian language -- in which he seemed to recognize the limits of the situation. He pledged that Ukraine would not join the NATO alliance and sought to reassure ethnic Russians and the Moscow government.

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