Merkel raps Putin’s defence of Crimea vote
Ukraine’s PM vows not to relinquish ‘a single centimetre’ of his country’s territory to Russia
SEVASTOPOL — German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin yesterday, telling him that a planned Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia was illegal and violated Ukraine’s Constitution.
But in a statement released by the Kremlin, the Russian president defended breakaway moves by pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, where Russian forces tightened their grip on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula by seizing another border post and a military airfield.
Ukraine’s government reacted furiously, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowing not to relinquish “a single centimetre” of his country’s territory, at a ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of its greatest poet, Taras Shevchenko, a son of peasant serfs who is a national hero and is considered the father of modern Ukrainian literature.
“This is our land,” Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at a Kiev statue to Shevchenko. “Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimetre from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know.”
As thousands staged rival rallies all across the Crimea, and anti-war demonstrators took over Independence Square in Kiev, street violence flared in Sevastopol in the disputed region, when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians.
Russian forces’ seizure of the region has been bloodless but tensions are mounting following the decision by pro-Russian groups there to make Crimea part of Russia.
In the latest armed action, pro-Russian forces wearing military uniforms bearing no designated markings sealed off a military airport in Crimea near the village of Saki, a Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman said. The operation to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich’s flight from the country last month. Yanukovich was toppled after three months of demonstrations against a decision to spurn a free trade deal with the European Union for closer ties with Russia.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will hold talks with President Barack Obama in Washington this week on how to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the White House said. Washington will not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents vote to leave Ukraine in a referendum next week.
Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his Parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory inhabited by Russian speakers.
Speaking by telephone to Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin said steps taken by authorities in Crimea were “based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population,” the Kremlin said.
A German government statement, however, said the referendum was illegal: “Holding it violates the Ukrainian Constitution and international law.”
Merkel also slammed the lack of progress on forming an “international contact group,” something Putin previously agreed to, in order to seek a political solution to the Ukraine crisis.
Herald with AP, Reuters