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Putin To Visit Crimea At End Of Election Campaign

Campaign billboards of Russian President Vladimir Putin reading "Simferopol for the Strong Russia! Vladimir Putin" in Simferopol, Crimea on March 9.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Crimea on March 14, the last day of his presidential election campaign, in order to attend events linked to the fourth anniversary of the disputed referendum Russia staged when it seized the region from Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia's Dozhd TV on March 12 about the gathering, which is expected to be attended by thousands of people.

Putin's government moved swiftly to seize control of Crimea in March 2014 after pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power after months of street demonstrations by pro-Western Ukrainians.

Russia sent troops without insignia to the Black Sea peninsula and orchestrated the takeover of government bodies, then staged a referendum to take control of the peninsula on March 16, 2014, a move that was denounced by the UN Security Council and General Assembly. The referendum was deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

In March 2017, Russian lawmakers moved the date of the presidential election from March 11 to March 18 -- the fourth anniversary of what Moscow describes as the formal accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation.

Answering a journalist's question about possible circumstances under which Crimea might be returned to Ukraine in a new film that was shown on social networks on March 11, Putin said returning the region to Ukraine will never be possible.

"You must be going out of your mind," Putin said. "There are no such circumstances and never will be."

Eight candidates are on the ballot in the presidential vote. But Putin -- who has been president or prime minister of Russia since 1999 -- appears certain to win another six-year term as president.

Based on reporting by Dozhd TV, AFP, and Interfax