- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

President Vladimir Putin unequivocally ruled out returning Crimea to Ukraine during an interview with Austria’s state broadcaster aired before his trip to Vienna on Tuesday.

Mr. Putin dismissed the possibility of conceding Crimea during a wide-ranging discussion conducted more than four years after Russia annexed the peninsula following the February 2014 ouster of former Ukrainian president and Kremlin loyalist Viktor Yanukovych.

“There are no such conditions and there cannot be any [for returning Crimea],” Mr. Putin told ORF, Russian media reported.

Mr. Putin subsequently doubled-down on Russia’s annexation, labeling it a legally sound response to the uprising that deposed Mr. Yanukovych.

“When an unconstitutional armed coup happened in Ukraine, power was seized by force, our army was legally in Crimea, our military base was there under an agreement,” claimed Mr. Putin, according to Russia’s state-owned TASS newswire.



“The first thing we did was to increase our contingent to protect our Armed Forces there, our military facilities, where, as we have seen, various assaults and encroachments were in preparation. That is how it all began,” Mr. Putin added. “Our servicemen were always there. Like I said before - they were there, they did not participate in anything.”

Russia didn’t annex Crimea, Mr. Putin insisted. Instead, rather, the Russian military “ensured independent free elections” occurred ultimately resulting in their reunification.

“Crimea gained independence not as a result of the invasion of Russian troops, but through the will of the people of Crimea expressed in an open referendum,” Mr. Putin reiterated.

Mr. Yanukovych was driven from office in February 2014 after pursuing a loan bailout from Moscow rather than a pending deal with the European Union. Russia soldiers arrived in Crimea days later, and the following month they facilitated the “free elections” cited by Mr. Putin but largely rejected elsewhere, spurring sanctions from the U.S. and its allies.

More recently, Mr. Putin personally oversaw the completion last month of a bridge connecting Russia to the contested peninsula. The project was highly symbolic, and prosecutors in Moscow launched terrorism investigations afterwards into two employees of The Washington Examiner newspaper over an opinion article calling for the bridge to be bombed.

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