President Vladimir Putin called for Russia to annex Crimea from Ukraine, defying U.S. and European Union sanctions and ratcheting up tension in his country’s worst confrontation with the West since the Cold War.
Russia should ratify a treaty to absorb Crimea after a referendum in the Black Sea peninsula supporting the switch, according to an order signed by Putin and published on a government website today. He addressed lawmakers and regional leaders in Moscow, telling them Crimea was an “inalienable” part of Russia, which felt “robbed” when the province stayed with Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The Crimean people expressed their will clearly: they want to be with Russia,” Putin said in a speech at the Kremlin that was met with standing ovations. “Crimea is our historic legacy. It should be part of a strong and stable sovereignty, which today can only be Russian.”
The speech signaled Putin won’t back down after the U.S. and EU slapped Russian and Crimean officials with asset freezes and travel bans and threatened further measures to dissuade him from taking the territory. The confrontation has stirred worry that Russia may try next to annex parts of eastern Ukraine where Russian speakers make up a large part of the population.
“There’s no bargaining,” Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, said by phone. “Russia isn’t paying attention to the costs in terms of relations with the West. The crisis is only beginning. Putin and his allies are ready for a tough and protracted standoff. And they think that they have the resources for it.”