Merkel raps Putin as Russian forces tighten grip on Crimea

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine Sun Mar 9, 2014 11:13pm GMT

1 of 22. A woman holds a sign depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler as she attends a rally at Independence Square in Kiev March 9, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Alex Kuzmin

Related Topics

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Germany's Angela Merkel delivered a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, telling him that a planned Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia was illegal and violated Ukraine's constitution.

Putin defended breakaway moves by pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, where Russian forces tightened their grip on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula by seizing another border post and a military airfield.

As thousands staged rival rallies in Crimea, street violence flared in Sevastopol, when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians.

Russian forces' seizure of the region has been bloodless but tensions are mounting following the decision by pro-Russian groups there to make Crimea part of Russia.

In the latest armed action, pro-Russian forces wearing military uniforms bearing no designated markings sealed off a military airport in Crimea near the village of Saki, a Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman on the peninsula said.

The operation to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich's flight from the country last month. Yanukovich was toppled after three months of demonstrations against a decision to spurn a free trade deal with the European Union for closer ties with Russia.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will hold talks with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday on how to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the White House said.

One of Obama's top national security officials said the United States would not recognise the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents vote to leave Ukraine in a referendum next week.

"We won't recognise it, nor will most of the world," deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said.


Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory inhabited by Russian speakers.

Speaking by telephone to Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin said steps taken by authorities in Crimea were "based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula's population," the Kremlin said.

A German government statement, however, said the referendum was illegal: "Holding it violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law."

Merkel also regretted the lack of progress on forming an "international contact group" to seek a political solution to the Ukraine crisis and said this should be done urgently.

On Thursday, Merkel said if a contact group was not formed in the coming days and no progress was made in negotiations with Russia, the European Union could hit Russia with sanctions such as travel restrictions and asset freezes.

Merkel, whose country is heavily dependent on Russia oil and gas, has so far been more cautious than some other nations, urging Western partners to give Putin more time before punishing Moscow with tough economic sanctions.

This stance reflects German fears of the geopolitical consequences of an isolated Russia as much as it does concern about its business interests and energy ties.

In a round of telephone diplomacy on Sunday, the German chancellor also spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, agreeing that Ukraine's sovereignty must be preserved,

and Chinese President Xi Jinping, underlining the need to resolve the crisis through dialogue.


Russians took over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea at around 6 a.m. (0400) GMT, trapping about 15 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman said.

The spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan, said Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts across Crimea, a former Russian territory that is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and has an ethnic Russian majority.

At a Ukrainian military base at Yevpatoriya on the coast of western Crimea there were reports that the Russian forces had issued an ultimatum to surrender or be stormed. It passed, as has happened on other occasions at bases across Crimea.

"They are putting psychological pressure on us. It is not the first ultimatum," Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Lomaka told Reuters by telephone, saying the Russian forces would not allow him out of the base.

"We have no fight with them, but we are not going to hand over our weapons to soldiers of the Russian Federation."

Dimtry Bolbanchyov, 50, who works as a cook on commercial boats, bicycles 13 kilometres across town to bring the besieged Ukrainians soldiers food.

"I am doing what I can to boost their morale. Ukraine has become so weak, we can only hope for help from outside," he said.

In Sevastopol, several hundred people held a meeting demanding that Crimea become part of Russia, chanting: "Moscow is our capital."

Across town at a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, violence flared at a meeting to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth, when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a small group of Ukrainians guarding the event and the police had to intervene.

Footage from the event showed a group of men violently kicking one of the Ukrainians as he lay on the ground and a Cossack repeatedly hit him with a long black leather whip.

In Simferopol, Crimea's main city, pro- and anti-Russian groups held rival rallies.

Several hundred opponents of Russian-backed plans for Crimea to secede gathered, carrying blue and yellow balloons the colour of the Ukrainian flag. The crowd sang the national anthem, twice, and an Orthodox Priest led prayers and a hymn.

Vladimir Kirichenko, 58, an engineer, opposed the regional parliament's plans for a vote this month on Crimea joining Russia. "I don't call this a referendum. It asks two practically identical questions: Are you for the secession of Ukraine or are you for the secession of Ukraine? So why would I go and vote?"


Several thousand Russian supporters gathered in Lenin Square, clapping along to nostalgic Soviet era songs.

Alexander Liganov, 25 and jobless, said: "We have always been Russian, not Ukrainian. We support Putin."

At a rally in the eastern city of Donetsk, home to many Russian speakers, presidential candidate Vitaly Klitschko, a former boxing champion, said Ukraine should not be allowed to split apart amid bloodshed.

"The main task is to preserve the stability and independence of our country," he said.

The worst face-off with Moscow since the Cold War has left the West scrambling for a response, especially since the region's pro-Russia leadership declared Crimea part of Russia last week and announced a March 16 referendum to confirm it.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to Russia's foreign minister for the fourth day in a row, told Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that Russia should exercise restraint.

A spokeswoman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said military monitors from the pan-Europe watchdog had on Saturday been prevented for the third time in as many days from entering Crimea.

Moscow denies that the Russian-speaking troops in Crimea are under its command, an assertion Washington dismisses as "Putin's fiction". Although they wear no insignia, the troops drive vehicles with Russian military plates.

A Reuters reporting team filmed a convoy of hundreds of Russian troops in about 50 trucks, accompanied by armoured vehicles and ambulances, which pulled into a military base north of Simferopol in broad daylight on Saturday.

Ukrainian troops are performing training exercises in their bases but there are no plans to send them to Crimea, Interfax news agency quoted acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh as saying. Ukraine's military, with 130,000 troops, would be no match for Russia's. So far Kiev has held back from any action that might provoke a response.

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Alissa de Carbonnel at Yevpatoriya; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood; Editing by Anna Willard)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (13)
laodizea wrote:
Situation with USA should be analysed. Here in our crazy house Muslim is running .everywhere shouting USA ,USA ,USA.I have said to case worker but he that has said IT is politics It is emotion also they do not want to take him as crazy But Friday I listened to Russian songs and black gay that listened too because they try to speak loud in the room So He switched of computer for the night because I do not sleep So they switched on again I switched of for them Because this is desire to command over me was enormous So of cause anybody can create a cyber attack on his own computer, They were angry yesterday and even try to suspect me But I said to them that they download viruses and this can destroy all network and they were silent because the knew I am right But because they do not command over others they were very angry. What want USA to prove to expect going on the Russian soldiers and pushing them ? I tell you they expect that they powerful and else they Russians should understand that they powerful .Why? I tell one story Muslims pretend that they powerful as USA does and yesterday it was a woman day and in Egypt women said that they should be checked for readiness for politics twice but men as they said whose level of brain lower mostly that woman should not be checked . So it is proved What St Paul said that woman has head of men and men head of Jesus ( so if not Jesus then very silly and woman as men)USA and others on their side have the head of woman and behave themselves as unreasonable woman ( I am about mister Obama)I understood this long time ago So woman can attack strong man of can and even can kill because men is not ready to this attack. So what is woman proud? I tell they do not speak the truth never to men and deceiving they hope they are clever because woman already absolutely went mad It is even more interesting they people can think But it will be secret from you but I open to you secret as I said study karate as it is confession of sins I am not going to explain to you logic here. So give chance A good chance again to Christians Of cause if could read carefully there is a sophisticated logic in all speech with conclusion .There are two styles Kung fu -soft and hard Chinese are lost the truth as know all secrets of Buddha Krishna Shiva and Vishnu Thanks and Glory to Jesus Christ So if you can answer what is each of these styles you will be on the right way as I say to you. You will open the secret of Bodhisattva ( 36th patriarch of Buddha)He told this secret before death to weak monk and the weak monk run away as Bodhisattva said him because hi knew that the strongest will go after him to know the secret of Buddha And when the strongest reached the weak ,the weak gave him secret So they both possessed the secret of Buddha and this secret China lost and all Buddhists But if Jesus will not open to you secret them simple study karate. Jesus said to you Apostles were in India. But Muslims and Jews Quran and Talmud are evil books and they are fools as Satan The truth is now with Russia

Mar 08, 2014 2:35am GMT  --  Report as abuse
laodizea wrote:
Just now saw on RT Khrushcheva She is living in USA Such a idiotic schizophrenic as she it is very difficult to find. Nikita was clever but children idiots.She said ban of visas will affect people.I answer you idiot Krushcheva .Russia has got high scrapers and Sochi that better than Monaco All good are made in China And intellect of Russians is growing Because more interesting to see Himalayas or Peru As it prefers English rather than go in USA And Gothic churches will be on east it will be east culture because USA build now as in USSR style and Russia in European style of 1980th that is hated in USA and in Europe of gays Russia does not need gays it is your keep with your self In Germany Catholics do not let children go in schools But they weak already they can not as people do in capitalism to gather together in groups of righteous people with own schools USA nobody needs any more even old things are worse than in the east Russian received what it needs .Capitalism And it is inside country and never outside

Mar 08, 2014 3:14am GMT  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Reuters can put up provocative pictures till the cows come home…

The facts are:

Nuland tapes proves the U.S. State Dept was interfering with the sovereignty of the Ukraine, to the extent the State Dept was picking a choosing the political make-up of the Kiev post-coup regime.

Ashton tapes suggest that those puppets for the U.S. State Dept were using extremists and radicals to usurp power by way of arms.

Reuters might not like the idea that neoNazis are in fact the instruments of Washington moves within Kiev, but that is how most enlightened people now see it.

The McCain/Nuland Black-Ops coup is a disastrous chapter in Ukrainian history.

Mar 09, 2014 4:02pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.