Putin hails Russia's victories, old and new

Visits naval base in newly annexed Crimea

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MOSCOW -- Putting his personal seal on the annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin traveled Friday to the naval port of Sevastopol, where he used the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany to assert that Moscow had the right to take over the Black Sea peninsula.

Over the past decade, Mr. Putin has gradually turned Victory Day into a celebration of resurgent Russian power and nationalism. The visit to Sevastopol, in southwestern Crimea, the historical home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, was a potent manifestation of his goal of reviving Russia as a global power.

Mr. Putin's visit coincided with new clashes in eastern Ukraine. Victory Day celebrations there were marred by an attack by Ukrainian government forces on a police station in Mariupol, where at least seven people were killed.

The attack signaled what appeared to be a major escalation in the interim government's fight with pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, and came two days after Mr. Putin urged that the separatists delay a referendum scheduled for Sunday and that all sides settle their differences through dialogue.

The death toll in Mariupol, a city of about 500,000, was expected to rise as rescue workers gained access to the police station, which exploded in flames.

Meanwhile, in his speech on a naval quay in Sevastopol, Mr. Putin, as he did at a ceremony in Moscow's Red Square earlier in the day, stuck to the patriotic themes of the day: strength, heroism, struggle and resilience.

Speaking for less than four minutes, he ran through Sevastopol's history: its naming by Catherine the Great 230 years ago; a 250-day Nazi siege the city endured; and its vote to rejoin Russia in March.

"I think 2014 will also be an important year in the annals of Sevastopol and our whole country, as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, and thus confirmed their faith in the historic memory of our forefathers," Mr. Putin said in remarks broadcast nationwide.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine immediately issued a statement protesting Mr. Putin's visit. It accused Mr. Putin of ignoring international law, the demands of the international community that Russia not occupy Crimea and a treaty between Russia and Ukraine that calls on both countries to respect their mutual borders.

The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, condemned Mr. Putin's visit as "inappropriate." Speaking in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, Mr. Rasmussen said that NATO considered the annexation illegal, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Rasmussen also said that NATO had "no visible evidence" that Russia was withdrawing its 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine, as Mr. Putin said it would Wednesday.

Mr. Putin's visit to Crimea came just hours after a thundering Victory Day parade, a lengthy review of Russia's refurbished military and advanced hardware, rolled through Red Square in Moscow.

In the parade, the tribute to the annexation of Crimea was not subtle, as the first vehicles to enter the square behind row after row of tightly choreographed marching soldiers made clear. The first vehicle, an armored personnel carrier from a Black Sea Marines brigade, flying a large Crimean flag.

Some 11,000 soldiers and 150 military vehicles, including tanks and intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, rumbled through the square. Through cloudless skies, a flyover included 69 aircraft, marking the 69 years since the victory over Nazi Germany. During the parade, military bands played marches and patriotic songs.

Meanwhile, Victory Day has always bee a fraught holiday in Ukraine, even under ordinary circumstances, because Ukrainians fought on oth sides.


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