MOSCOW - Crimea was “stolen” from Russia when it was handed to Ukraine half a century ago, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.
In a speech setting out Moscow’s historical ties to the peninsula, Putin said Crimea was a symbol of Russia’s military glory and the birthplace of its navy. Putin moved closer to annexing Crimea on Tuesday, two days after a controversial referendum.
To rapturous applause from lawmakers during an address to a joint session of parliament, Putin described the 1954 allocation of Crimea to Ukraine by then Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev as a mistake and said that the wishes of the local people had been ignored.
He said Russia was going through a “difficult phase” at the time.
MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday.
"The people of Crimea were not asked about anything,” he said. “It was hard to imagine then that Russia and Ukraine would be different countries. But it happened. The U.S.S.R. collapsed."
"When Crimea became part of a different state Russia felt it was stolen. A million people went to bed in one country and woke up in another.”
He said Russia thought Ukraine would be a friendly neighbor but that the situation "developed differently."
The U.S. and E.U. responded to the Crimean referendum Monday by imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Russian and Ukrainian officials.
They said the vote vote was illegitimate and carried out under threat of violence and intimidation from forces believed to be backed by Moscow.
Alexander Smith contributed to this report from London.
First published March 18 2014, 4:39 AM
Albina Kovalyova is a Moscow producer and reporter for NBC News. She started this role in June 2013. Kovalyova is responsible for covering Russia and the former Soviet Bloc. She reports to Chris Hampson, international news director.
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Kovalyova joined NBC News after working as a freelance television documentary producer/director for BBC World News where she made films about Russia and the former Soviet Bloc -- including Ukraine and Belarus. Her documentary about the Belarus Free Theatre was showcased at the One World Documentary Film Festival in Prague and was screened in various venues around the world, including the Russian division of the prestigious Frontline Club. Her documentary about Russia's gas heartland, Yamal, took part in an Arctic Documentary Film Festival in St. Petersburg in 2012.
Kovalyova also worked as a television producer for Reuters Television in Moscow where she covered the latest parliamentary and presidential elections, and opposition demonstrations during this time. She has interviewed Alexei Navalny and various other opposition figures. She also worked together with photographer Denis Sinyakov to produce a three-part television series looking at the lives of migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia. In 2012, she received exclusive access to Russia's submarine shipyard in Severodvinsk and co-wrote a feature on Russia's Arctic ambitions with Alissa De Carbonnel.
Kovalyova has also worked at on various BBC television and radio projects, at the Voice of America Moscow Bureau where she reported on the rise of Russian nationalism, and from the Moscow court during the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. She has also worked at Sky News as a deputy news editor and as a radio presenter at the Voice of Russia. Prior to that Albina was a writer for the analytical journal Russia Profile.