MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin tore into the U.S. and its allies over the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday, criticizing "Western exceptionalism” that sees itself as “always right.”
“We have to stop this Cold War rhetoric and realize that Russia is an independent nation ... you have to respect those interests of Russia,” he told a joint session of parliament in Moscow, to rapturous applause from lawmakers.
"Our Western partners crossed the line,” Putin said, accusing Ukraine and its allies of being "unprofessional."
He made a direct appeal to Americans, who he said were "proud of the fact that they hold freedom above all else" and referred to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, asking why Crimea's right to self-determination should be any different.
He said Russia was "always being cornered" by the international community "because we have an independent position, because we stand firmly on it, because we call things by their real names, and we are not hypocritical."
"In the case of Ukraine, our western partners crossed the line. Their behavior was rude, irresponsible, and unprofessional. They knew very well that millions of Russians live in both Crimea and the Ukraine. Russia found itself in a position that it could not back down from. If you push the spring too hard, it will recoil. You have to always remember that."
Putin also described Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, as "the mother of all Russian cities.”
He compared the annexation of Crimea with the unification of Germany in 1990, which was supported by Russia. “I am sure that Europeans and Germans will understand … Russia's desire to unify the Russian people,” he said.
Putin also said that he was not against cooperation with NATO, which he called “good guys,” but said he was against member states stationing warships on Ukraine and Russia’s doorstep.
Putin moved closer to annexing Crimea on Tuesday, two days after a controversial referendum.
The U.S. and E.U. responded to the vote on Monday by imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Russian and Ukrainian officials.
Alexander Smith contributed to this report.