Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday triumphantly joined tens of thousands of supporters to mark one year since his takeover of Crimea, a seismic shift that shattered ties with Ukraine and the West. Putin appeared on stage in front of a flag-waving crowd at a celebratory concert by the walls of the Kremlin to make an impassioned justification for seizing the Black Sea peninsula in a move that sent his poll ratings soaring. Putin claims he was forced to take over Crimea to protect ethnic Russians in the wake of the ouster of Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
We understood that in terms of Crimea it was not a matter of just some territory, however strategically important it is. It was a matter of millions of Russian people, our compatriots, who needed our help and support.
President Vladimir Putin
Fighting that flared up in eastern Ukraine between Moscow-backed separatists and government troops shortly after the annexation of Crimea has claimed more than 6,000 lives. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fueling the mutiny with troops and weapons, accusations Moscow has denied. Recently, Russia has been conducting “snap drills” across virtually every military unit to test readiness for a range of “new threats”. Even amid economic crisis and drastic cuts in government spending, Russia’s military budget is set to grow by 30 percent this year. Some European leaders say Russia’s display of force may be aimed at intimidating them as they mull over whether to extend sanctions on Russia for its interference in Ukraine’s civil war.