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Vladimir Putin Told Us Exactly How He Would Annex Crimea Two Weeks Ago

President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), Crimea's Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov (front L), Crimean parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov (back L) and Sevastopol Mayor Aleksei Chaliy shake hands after a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to the press in his first public remarks since Russian troops had taken positions in Crimea.

In the meeting with journalists an angry Putin railed against the West and the "illegitimate" government in Kyiv. Julia Ioffe, writing for the "New Republic," said Putin had "lost it."

Still, despite the bluster, the Associated Press said the message appeared to be one of "de-escalation." And Putin seemed to deny he had plans to annex Crimea. Western media reported Putin had said he had "no intention" of doing so.

As it turns out, not only did the Russian president plan on annexing Crimea, but he explained exactly how he would do it -- and which arguments he would use for it -- in the span of a minute. Here's the tape, dubbed in English by the Russian government-funded RT television.​
From the official transcript :

QUESTION: How do you see the future of Crimea? Do you consider the possibility of it joining Russia?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, we do not. Generally, I believe that only residents of a given country who have the freedom of will and are in complete safety can and should determine their future. If this right was granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this was made possible in many different parts of the world, then nobody has ruled out the right of nations to self-determination, which, as far as I know, is fixed by several UN documents. However, we will in no way provoke any such decision and will not breed such sentiments. I would like to stress that I believe only the people living in a given territory have the right to determine their own future.

Two days later, the above vision for self-determination had been put into place. Crimea's parliament voted to secede and join Russia, and the date for a referendum on the decision was moved from March 30 to March 16. Under the protection of Crimean "self-defense forces," including thousands of Russian soldiers -- whose incursion into Crimean territory Moscow still refuses to acknowledge -- the peninsula voted overwhelmingly to join Russia.

Comparisons to Kosovo, too, had become a talking point for Russian politicians. If the West had supported Kosovo's declaration of Independence in 2008, why should it not support Crimea's in 2014? (We've outlined the significant differences between the two here.)

In his speech on March 18, before signing a treaty for union with Crimea, Putin expanded on his remarks from two weeks ago.

On the right to self-determination:

"Crimeans raised the question in a powerful and uncompromising way, without any half-tint. The referendum was conducted openly and honestly and people in Crimea clearly and convincingly expressed their will: they want to be with Russia."

On Kosovo as a precedent:

"I prefer not to cite quotations, but I can't resist pulling an excerpt from one of the official documents, in this case a U.S. memorandum from April 17, 2009…'Declarations of independence, can, and often do, violate domestic law, however this does not mean that there is a violation of international law."

He told us all this two weeks ago, but today his message was more direct.
-- Glenn Kates