Putin makes triumphal visit to Crimea
Updated: 2014-05-10 07:18
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Russian navy officers and Soviet army veterans during his visit to the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Friday. He also watched a parade of Russian navy ships and a flyby of Russian aircraft. Yuri Kadobnov / Agence France-Presse
Leader's trip follows massive Moscow parade celebrating victory in 1945
Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled on Friday to Crimea on his first trip to the Black Sea region since its annexation. The triumphal visit follows a massive show of military strength in the annual Red Square parade marking victory over Nazi Germany.
The celebrations come as the world is focused on Ukraine, where separatists in the country's east and southeast are preparing a referendum on secession.
Putin made a speech on Friday in the city of Sevastopol on his first trip to the Black Sea peninsula since March. He watched a parade of Russian navy ships and a flyby of Russian aircraft marking the Victory Day commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Ukraine has condemned Putin's visit as trampling on international law.
Putin made no reference to the situation in Ukraine in his speech in Moscow, which focused on the historic importance of the victory over Nazi Germany. But he then headed to Crimea.
The parade of troops on Red Square included a marine unit from the Black Sea Fleet that flew the Crimean flag on its armored personnel carriers.
Thousands of troops, motorized artillery and ballistic missile launchers passed before Putin in a show of military might, while jets, helicopters and bombers flew in cloudless skies.
Russian television called it the biggest such parade in 20 years on the holiday honoring the World War II victory, a day that stirs national pride more than any other in Russia.
But in a break from tradition reflecting the East-West standoff over Ukraine, Moscow and Kiev skipped joint marches of their countries' sailors in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based.
"The iron will of the Soviet people, their fearlessness and stamina saved Europe from slavery," Putin said in a speech to the military and war veterans gathered on Red Square.
"We will always guard this sacred and unfading truth and will not allow the betrayal and obliteration of heroes, of all who, not caring about themselves, preserved peace on the planet."
Moscow has in the last few weeks repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by leaders it portrays as neo-fascists in Ukraine, and urged Europe to prevent the rise of the far right.
Relations between Moscow and the West are at their lowest ebb since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.
Despite the tradition of Russia and Ukraine celebrating May 9 together, Ukraine's new pro-Western officials banned parades in the capital, fearful they could be targeted by "provocateurs" hoping to discredit the government.
Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, after attending a ceremony in Kiev's St Volodymyr's Cathedral, highlighted how the relationship had changed.
"It turned out that 69 years ago, we, together with Russia fought against fascism and won. History is repeating itself but in a different form," he said.
While Russia had stood alongside Ukraine in the past, "now Germany, Britain and the US are standing shoulder to shoulder with us".