Nightly News   |  March 17, 2014

Crimea Celebrates as Russia Takes Over

Russian President Vladimir Putin remains defiant, ignoring economic sanctions from the U.S. and Europe.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> you.

>>> tonight russian flags are flying in the crimean pen minutes la following a controversial vote over the weekend. despite a wave of sanctions from the white house and european union today, many are wondering just how far russia might go. we'll hear from richard angle in crimea in just a moment. first we're joined by our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in our washington news room. andrea, good evening.

>> good evening. vladimir putin was defiant signing the decree recognizing crimea 's independence, ignoring economic sanctions today from the u.s. and europe. the russian president still strutting in the afterglow of the sochi games today awarding medals to the russian pair aolympians, seemingly unfazed by u.s. sanctions. as crimeans celebrated, u.s. officials tacitly acknowledged crimea is lost. so is a ukrainian natural gas plant nearby, taken over by russia in a helicopter assault this weekend. the white house 's new red line , any russian move into the rest of eastern ukraine .

>> further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate russia .

>> reporter: today the president froze american bank accounts and commerce with top russian officials, crimean separatists, including former president yanukovych. if russia moves into eastern ukraine the president approved tougher measures against russian arms industry and oligarchs.

>> we have tools available to us to really ratchet up the economic and financial cost on russia if we choose to do so.

>> reporter: on russia 's state tv, defiance against a mushroom cloud , the anchor said " russia is the only country in the world that is really able to turn the usa into radioactive ashes."

>> he works for the kremlin, there's no doubt about it. and i think it's important that the world now sees what has been on russian television for years.

>> reporter: and critics say putin won't respond to economic pressure, no matter how close it hits to home. andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.

>>> this is richard angle in crimea where today they welcomed their new patron, russia .

>> reporter: those old enough to remember the soviet union celebrated the reunion with moscow. but the party here was decidedly one-sided. riot police out in force to make sure anyone opposed to moscow remained silent. there's no doubt the majority of people here are happy to join with putin's russia . but for the minority that doesn't want to, life just got a lot harder and maybe dangerous. hello.

>> hello.

>> nice to meet you.

>> reporter: at a theater popular with activists, the director galina told us pro-russian thugs threw stun grenades into the crowded theater three times. "they were attacking intellectuals, it's madness. many of my friends want to leave." 25-year-old diliara is packing tonight. three small suitcases. that's all she can carry with her. you're just going to close the door , lock it behind you, and go?

>> yes.

>> reporter: she's worried crimea under russia is becoming a police state .

>> i'm not here to live like this.

>> reporter: she fierce crimea has voted away its freedom. richard angle, nbc news, crimea .