Putin hails illegal annexation of Crimea after claiming election win

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has hailed the “return” of Crimea to Russia at a concert marking the 10th anniversary of the illegal annexation of the territory from Ukraine.

He said Crimea had “returned to its home harbour” and that it would move forwards with Russia “hand in hand”.

Mr Putin was addressing thousands in Moscow’s Red Square a day after claiming a landslide election win.

The vote has been condemned by Western governments as a sham.

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the elections, in which serious opposition candidates were not allowed to stand, “starkly underline the depth of repression under President Putin’s regime”.

He also stressed that holding Russian elections in occupied Ukrainian territories was an “abhorrent violation of the UN charter and Ukrainian sovereignty”.

Germany called it a “pseudo-election”, while the US said it was “obviously not free nor fair.” Ukraine’s president accused Putin of “simulating” another election.

The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Moscow in 2014 – eight years before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the seizure of its Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions.

On Monday, Mr Putin said the “return” of those four Ukrainian regions to Russia had turned out to be “much more grave and tragic” than Crimea.

“But in the end we did it. It is a big event in the history of our country,” he said, describing the occupied territories as part of “New Russia”. The crowd responded with chants of “Russia, Russia”.

Mr Putin also announced a new railway that will run from the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to Crimea via occupied Ukraine – which would serve as an alternative to the current bridge which links the peninsula to Russia’s mainland.

“This is how together, hand in hand, we will move on. This is what – not in words, but in deeds – makes us really stronger,” he said.

The existing bridge, which opened in 2018, has been attacked and forced to close twice since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Earlier during the rally, he said a rail line from Rostov to the occupied Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Mariupol, and Berdyansk had been restored, and would now be extended to the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.

Getty Images Crowds in Red SquareGetty Images: The president addressed thousands who had gathered in Moscow’s Red Square

Mr Putin thanked the crowd for their support in his recent election success – which saw him claim a fifth term with a landslide 87% – and was joined on stage by the three opposition candidates who were permitted to stand against him.

Russians had three days to vote and people in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine had even longer, in an attempt to persuade residents to take part.

The president, who has ruled Russia since 2000, is now set to stay in power until at least 2030 – the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Independent Russian watchdog, Golos, was barred from observing the vote but reports of irregularities have emerged, as well as pressure on public sector employees to vote either in polling stations or online.

Voters were not able “to form and express their free will, or to establish the true outcome of the vote”, it said.

The president praised opposition campaigners for encouraging voters to turn out in greater numbers, although he condemned those who spoilt their ballots and said action would be taken against them.

Source: BBC

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