Putin Celebrates Victory Day in Crimea; Ukraine, and the West Condemn Visit

Putin Celebrates Victory Day in Crimea; Ukraine, and the West Condemn Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March. Russia and Ukraine celebrated Victory Day, the day the Allies triumphed over the Nazis in World War II.

Watching a military parade in Sevastopol on the Black Sea, Putin said: “I am sure that 2014 will go into the annals of our whole country as the year when the nations living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, affirming fidelity to the historical truth and the memory of our ancestors.”

Russia and pro-Russians in Crimea and Ukraine believe the Ukrainian government was taken over by fascists when parliament ousted Russia-backed Viktor Yanukovych on February 22. Many Crimeans came out to cheer Putin and reunification with Russia.

“I’m here to prevent any provocations from the fascists. I served in a self-defense unit during March, and I consider it my duty to be here,” said Natalya Malyarchuk, 52.

In Sevastopol, factory worker Vasily Topol, 31, wearing a white T-shirt with an image of Putin in sunglasses and the words “Russia’s Army”, said life was better since becoming Russian.

“We have the greatest admiration for Putin, we are morally and materially better off since Crimea became part of Russia,” he said, speaking on an embankment overlooking Russian warships.

The West, NATO, and Ukraine were not pleased that Putin decided to visit Crimea, especially on Victory Day. Victory Day 2014 is harder to swallow for most since Russia and Ukraine usually celebrate the holiday together. But today Ukraine said Putin’s visit was a deliberate attempt to escalate the violence and uprising in east Ukraine and said the new government is not similar to the Nazis.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, in office since an uprising overthrew the Kremlin-backed elected president in Kiev in February, rejects Russian allegations that his power is the result of coup backed by neo-Nazi Ukrainian nationalists.

“Sixty-nine years ago, we, together with Russia, fought against fascism and won,” he said after a Victory Day church service in the capital. Now, he added, “history is repeating itself but in a different form”.

The head of NATO, locked in its gravest confrontation with Russia since the Cold War, condemned Putin’s visit to Crimea, whose annexation in March has not been recognized by Western powers. He also renewed doubts over an assurance by the Kremlin leader that he had pulled back troops from the Ukrainian border.

But NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “His visit to Crimea is inappropriate.”

Kyiv cancelled all Victory Day parades for the first time in their history due to fears of violence from pro-Russian forces. In Mariupol, an important port city in Donetsk Oblast, reports of two to 20 pro-Russians were killed in clashes between the pro-Russians and pro-Ukrainians.