Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since it was annexed today, as part of a patriotic celebration of Russia's victory over the Nazis on May 9, 1945. Victory Day has become an occasion for the Kremlin to annually rally support and patriotism for Russia, so he apparently decided the best way to do that was lay greater claim to his newest territory.
In Moscow, thousands of soldiers marched in a parade celebrating the World War II victory and Russia's general military might.
And this year, Putin used the event to welcome Crimea to the Russian family. A Black Sea Fleet marine unite marched in Moscow, and Putin used the event to finally pay a visit to Crimea, where Victory Day celebrations were also underway. Putin spoke very warmly to his new subjects, praising their "return to the Motherland," adding that the annexation was an homage to the "historical justice and the memory of our ancestors," among other things:
This planned performance did not going over very well with international leaders. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said yesterday that "were Putin to take part, it would make things more difficult than they already are." Today, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a statement in response to Putin's appearance in Crimea, saying:
We consider the Russian annexation of Crimea to be illegal, illegitimate and we don't recognize it... We still consider Crimea as Ukrainian territory and from my knowledge the Ukrainian authorities haven't invited Putin to visit Crimea, so from that point of view his visit to Crimea is inappropriate.
Even some Crimeans don't appear to be pleased with Putin's speech:
WOW. Putin booed as he moves through the crowd in Sevastopol, according to live TV pictures— Richard Carter (@rdcberlinAFP) May 9, 2014
But those watching in Russia probably don't know that:
Seems Putin being booed and whistled didn't make it onto Russian TV— Richard Carter (@rdcberlinAFP) May 9, 2014
Not surprisingly, Russian media is more focused on highlighting the grandeur of the event to show any negative reactions to Putin's speech:
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops fought separatists in Mariupol earlier today, where a fierce gun battle reportedly left somewhere between three and 20 people dead:
AFP, quoting health officials, says three confirmed dead in Mariupol gunfight. Twenty-five injured.— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) May 9, 2014
Reuters reports that the violence began when Ukrainian troops attacked the police headquarters in the east Ukrainian city, in an effort to clear it of pro-Russia separatists. The building caught fire in the attack.
Ukrainians were poised for more unrest on Victory Day. Yesterday, Odessa went into lockdown mode, fearing another bout of violence in the city. One local business owner told the Washington Post that “Panic and fear scared our visitors away. We, too, feel worried and plan to keep the doors closed on May 9 to avoid the danger." According to a recent Gallup poll, most Ukrainians (not including Crimeans) prefer a united country and would prefer to see the separatists leave them in peace.