By Timothy Heritage and Alexei Anishchuk
MOSCOW (Reuters) –
President Vladimir Putin delivered a fiercely patriotic speech on Tuesday describing Crimea as an inseparable part of Russia and accusing the West of reverting to Cold War containment by trying to stop the Ukrainian region joining Russia.
To thunderous applause, and some tears among women in the audience, Putin defended Russia’s actions in the crisis over the Black Sea peninsula which has pushed relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.
To the Russian national anthem, Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty on making Crimea part of Russia.
“The (Crimean) issue has a vital importance, a historic importance for all of us,” Putin said in an address in the Kremlin to a joint session of parliament, members of his government, business leaders and Crimean leaders.
“In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This commitment, based on truth and justice, was firm, was passed from generation to generation,” he said in a speech lasting for 47 minutes.
The former KGB spy was interrupted by applause at least 30 times.
He depicted the Black Sea peninsula as a holy place for Russia and accused the West, which has imposed sanctions on some Russians and Ukrainians, of crossing a red line.
But he dismissed concerns that Russia would try to seize other regions in Ukraine, prompting Russian shares to rise and the rouble to trim its losses on the day.
“Don’t believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea,” Putin said. “We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.”
But he added: “Our Western partners, headed by the United States, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun.”
“They have come to believe in their exceptionalism and their sense of being the chosen ones. That they can decide the destinies of the world, that it is only them who can be right.”
He said he did not want to be greeted in Sevastopol, home to the Black Sea Fleet, by NATO sailors.
By contrast, he praised China for its support during the crisis over Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic.
Putin signed a decree recognising Crimea as an independent state on Monday, one day after it voted overwhelmingly for union with Russia in a referendum which the West said was illegitimate.
He launched a fierce attack on the new leadership in Kiev which ousted Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich on February 22, saying they had opened the door to “neo-Nazis”.
“Those who were behind recent events, they were … preparing a coup d’etat, another one. They were planning to seize power, stopping at nothing. Terror, murder, pogroms were used,” he said, calling them “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.
“It is primarily they who are deciding how Ukraine lives today. The so-called Ukrainian authorities introduced a scandalous law on the revision of the language policy, which directly violated the rights of the national minorities.”
(Reporting by Moscow bureau, Writing By Timothy Heritage, editing by Elizabeth Piper)