Putin Takes Victory Lap to Annexed Crimea - The New Indian Express

Putin Takes Victory Lap to Annexed Crimea

Published: 10th May 2014 12:30 AM

Last Updated: 10th May 2014 12:32 AM

President Vladimir Putin took a victory lap today in his first visit to Crimea since its annexation by Russia, as fighting in eastern Ukraine left more than 20 dead just days ahead of a separatist vote.

The visit drew a sharp rebuke from authorities in Kiev, who accused the Russian strongman of stoking tensions with his visit to Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

"This provocation once again confirms that Russia deliberately seeks further escalation of tensions," the foreign ministry said, calling the visit a "flagrant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty".

The White House also condemned the trip, with National Security Council spokesman Laura Magnuson saying it "will only serve to fuel tensions".

With unease high ahead of an independence vote planned for Sunday in parts of eastern Ukraine, fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Moscow militants erupted in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.

An attempt by around 60 rebels armed with automatic weapons to storm the city's police headquarters turned into a "full-scale military clash" when army and interior ministry troop reinforcements arrived, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his official Facebook page.

He said the death toll from the near-two-hour combat stood at 20 rebels and one policeman, while another four policemen were wounded and four rebels were captured.

Witnesses in Mariupol told AFP the fighting was ferocious and involved an exchange of automatic gunfire and shelling from eight armoured vehicles.

The police headquarters was gutted by fire and, after the battle, firemen were at the scene trying to extinguish the flames.

"There was an awful lot of shooting," said an eyewitness who gave his first name as Aleksandr.

In Sevastopol, Putin reviewed Russian ships in the bay, hailing the sailors on board with a "Hello comrades!" as he congratulated them on the 69th anniversary of the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II.

Putin said 2014 "will go down in history" as the year when the "historic truth" of Crimea as part of Russia was recognised.

"Much work remains ahead, but we will overcome all difficulties... because we are together. And that means we are even stronger," Putin told a cheering crowd.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in March set off the worst diplomatic crisis in the West's relations with Moscow since the end of the Cold War.

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