Contradicting previous denials, President Vladimir Putin has admitted that Russia’s armed forces played a role in events leading up to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, but denied direct involvement of his country's military in a referendum that was used to justify the move, according to an interview broadcast by German television.
“Our armed forces, let’s be frank, blocked Ukraine’s armed forces that were stationed in Crimea. But not for the purpose of forcing people to participate in the vote – that’s impossible to do – but to prevent bloodshed, and to allow people to express their personal views on how they would like to see their own and their children’s future,” said Putin in a pre-recorded interview with ARD TV, which aired late Sunday.
Putin also said he was convinced that in the case of Crimea’s annexation Russia did not violate international law. He compared the referendum on the peninsula to the 2008 vote on Kosovo’s independence which, he pointed out, was approved only by the former Serbian province’s parliament, not by plebiscite.
Russia annexed Crimea following a controversial March 16 referendum in which, according to data made public, nearly 97 percent of voters supported secession from Ukraine. Turnout was reported at just over 83 percent. Despite Russian claims of an observer presence, there were no monitors from any internationally-recognized body overseeing the poll.
Kyiv and many Western countries promptly dismissed the vote and subsequent annexation of Crimea as illegitimate and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Later, the move was also overwhelmingly condemned as illegal by a United Nations General Assembly resolution, with 100 countries voting in favor, 11 against and 58 abstaining.
In a March 4 question-and-answer session with reporters Putin denied that Russian troops were in any way involved in what was widely seen as an armed takeover of Crimea, insisting that heavily armed men in unmarked green uniforms that could be seen taking control of government buildings on the peninsula were members of “local self-defense forces.” When asked by one journalist why the green uniforms were so similar to those worn by Russian troops, Putin replied that clothing of that kind could be purchased in any store.
Prior to Crimea’s annexation, Russia already had a troop presence on the Ukrainian peninsula based on a land-lease agreement for its Black See fleet, which Moscow had arranged with previous Ukrainian governments.