Participants hold up boxes to make a portrait of USPresident Barack Obama during a flashmob event by students in Moscow. The slogan reads 'Sanction against Russia are sanctions against me!' REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
President Vladimir Putin says Russia's takeover of Crimea
showed off its military prowess, as his defence minister
reported that the Russian flag was now flying over all
military sites on the Black Sea peninsula.
In a Kremlin ceremony with senior security officials, Sergei
Shoigu told Putin that all Ukrainian servicemen still loyal
to Kiev have left the Crimea region, whose annexation by
Moscow has led to the worst stand-off with the West since the
"The recent events in Crimea were a serious test," Putin was
shown on state television as saying in an echoing and glided
"They demonstrated both the completely new capabilities of
our Armed Forces and the high morale of the personnel."
A deputy head of the Federal Security Service, Alexander
Malevany, told Putin at the meeting active measures were
being taken to counter what he called growing Western efforts
to weaken the Russian state and curb Moscow's influence in
its post-Soviet backyard.
The United States and NATO have voiced alarm over what they
say are thousands of Russian troops massed near its western
border with Ukraine. Putin has reserved the right to send
troops into Ukraine, which is home to a large population of
Russian-speakers in the east.
Putin praised Russian troops for "avoiding bloodshed" in
Crimea, whose largely ethnic Russian citizens overwhelmingly
voted to join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed in
the West as illegal.
Speaking to Ukrainian servicemen who chose to swap sides and
swear allegiance to Russia, Putin hinted they would be well
rewarded by pointing out that Russian servicemen earned some
four times more than their Ukrainian counterparts.
Ukraine's former navy chief, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky,
has been handed the deputy command of Russia's Black Sea
Fleet after his defection.
"The change in state symbols on all ships and in all
divisions that have sided with the Russian army has been
completed," Shoigu told Putin.
He said warships, war planes and other hardware seized from
troops loyal to Kiev will be returned to Ukraine, which could
help Russia avoid a potentially costly legal battle in
international arbitration courts.
The Foreign Ministry also said Moscow would move to annul its
lease agreement with Kiev that allowed it to base its Black
Sea Fleet on the peninsula.
THREATS FROM THE WEST
Despite signs that tensions with the West may be cooling as a
status quo takes shape in Crimea, Malevany warned Putin at
Friday's meeting that Moscow faces growing threats from the
United States and its allies, who are trying to weaken
Russia's influence on Ukraine.
"There has been a sharp increase in external threats to the
state," he said. "The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea
and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the
United States and its allies."
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that Russia's
troop buildup near Ukraine's eastern border may be more than
just an effort to intimidate Ukraine and urged Moscow to pull
forces back to ease tension.
Putin has received permission from parliament to send the
armed forces into Ukraine if necessary, raising concerns he
could cite alleged threats to Russian-speakers in eastern
regions as grounds for intervention there.
The Foreign Ministry has fuelled such concerns with near
daily reports that ethnic Russians were being targeted.
"Total ignorance of the interests of Russian-speaking
residents of Ukraine is now nothing new but rather a
permanent reality," it said on Friday.
It called on international organisations to pay attention to
what it called severe violations of the rights of minorities
by Ukraine's pro-Western interim government.