Putin completes annexation
President Vladimir Putin completed his annexation of Crimea on Friday, signing the Black Sea peninsula into Russia just as Ukraine itself sealed a deal pulling the country closer into Europe's orbit.
Putin said he saw no need to further retaliate against U.S. sanctions, a newly conciliatory tone apparently aiming to contain one of the worst crises in Russia's relations with the West since the Cold War. His spokesman, however, later kept the Kremlin's warning open that it could consider various options.
At Ukrainian bases on the peninsula, troops hesitated, besieged by Russian forces and awaiting orders. Russia claimed some had already switched sides and agreed to join the Russian military. Friday had been the deadline for Ukrainian troops to leave Crimea, join the Russian military or demobilize.
Russia rushed the annexation of the strategic peninsula after Sunday's hastily called referendum in which its residents overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote, held two weeks after Russian troops had seized control of Crimea. The U.S. and EU have responded to the crisis by slapping sanctions on Russia.
Putin hailed the incorporation of Crimea into Russia as a "remarkable event" before he signed the parliament bills into law Friday in the Kremlin. He also ordered fireworks in Moscow and Crimea.
At nearly the same time in a ceremony in Brussels, Ukraine's new prime minister pulled his nation closer to Europe by signing a political association agreement with the European Union. It was the same deal that touched off Ukraine's political crisis, the deal that President Viktor Yanukovych rejected in November, igniting the months of protests that drove him from office and sent him fleeing to Russia.
"Russia decided to actually impose a new post-Cold War order and revise the results of the Second World War," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Brussels. "The best way to contain Russia is to impose real economic leverage over them."
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