Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on law, brotherhood, and the romance of reunification in a speech to a joint session of Russia's parliamentary houses today, before joining Crimean leaders in a treaty signing ceremony to make the peninsula a new addition to Russia.
Last night, the Kremlin website posted an approval of Crimea's draft independence bill, recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state. Today, Putin spoke for close to an hour about the history of Russia, Crimea, and the West, before overseeing the signing of document, citing the will of the Crimean people as justification and decrying the West's attempt to stop the union.
In the speech, Putin made the expected point that there's not that much the international community can do to prevent two willing, sovereign entities to merge. He made the case that Russia has acted in accordance with international law, and that thousands of Russian troops on the ground in Crimea had nothing to do with it. Per the Associated Press:
To back his claim that Crimea's vote was in line with international law, Putin pointed to Kosovo's independence bid from Serbia — supported by the West and opposed by Russia — and said that Crimea's secession from Ukraine repeats Ukraine's own secession from the Soviet Union in 1991. He denied Western accusations that Russia invaded Crimea prior to the referendum, saying Russian troops were sent there in line with a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea. He said that protests that drove out Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych were encouraged by the West.
Basically, according to Putin, there's absolutely no reason why anyone in the international or Ukrainian community should have the slightest issue with him or Russia. But ethnic Russians in Crimea, have plenty of good reasons to be mad at Kiev.
Putin also had a few things to say about recent Crimea-related controversies. On the 123% vote in favor of secession, Putin said:
#Putin: the referendum was carried out openly and honestly (applause)— Isa Soares (@IsaCNN) March 18, 2014
On relations with Ukraine, which has complained repeatedly of Russia's military presence in Crimea, Putin said:
And on the West's insistence that Russia should not interfere in Ukraine at this volatile time, he commented:
Finally, after making his case, he signed the treaty:
Russian lawmakers are expected to endorse the draft shortly, officially making Crimea and Sevastopol official districts of Russia.
International leaders fear that the annexation could pave the way for more unrest in other parts of Ukraine. Though Putin has repeatedly said that he wants peace with the country, some fear that he might actually want something a little different.
Some [Ukrainian protesters] clashed with supporters of the Kiev government, raising the danger that the Kremlin could use such violence as a pretext to send in troops. The volatile situation plays to Putin's chief stated reason for military intervention in Ukraine: protecting ethnic Russians across the former Soviet empire. He has vowed to "use all means" to do that in Ukraine. And the Russian military has conducted a series of massive war games alongside the 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) border between the two countries in an apparent demonstration of its readiness to intervene.
The Kremlin can expect continued push-back from the international community following the move. Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued sanctions against 21 individuals, prompting some critics to argue that the move is little more than a slap on the wrist. In response to the accusation, Obama defended their efficacy but also said that "if Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions," adding, "We will continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world." EU leaders have said that they refuse to recognize the outcome of the referendum vote, which mandated Crimea's secession from Ukraine in the first place.
Russia, at least, has one respected diplomat on its side. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev — the last man to rule over both Russia and Ukraine — called the annexation a "happy event."