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Putin, Biden Spar As Moscow Pushes Ahead On Crimea

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to talk past each other.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to talk past each other.
It may come to be seen as the high point of Russian President Vladimir Putin's career. In a glittering Kremlin hall and before an audience of rapt and appreciative Russian officials, Putin gave his defining speech on the situation in Crimea.

And he capped it off with the immediate signing of documents formally bringing Crimea and the Crimean port city of Sevastopol into the Russian Federation.

"Today, based on the results of the Crimean referendum, based on the will of the people, I am proposing that the Federal Council consider a federal law about accepting two new constituent regions into the Russian Federation -- the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol," Putin said to a standing ovation, "and also ratify the ready-to-be-signed bill about the entrance of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol into the Russian Federation. I dare not doubt your support."

Hours later, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to reporters with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as part of a tour of Poland and the Baltic states to show support for NATO's eastern allies as the crisis in Ukraine and the standoff with Russia continues.

For Biden, Putin's was a tough act to follow. "Ukraine -- it's almost an unbelievable set of events that has brought us here," he said. "President [Barack Obama] asked me to come to Warsaw today to reaffirm the United States' solemn commitment, solemn NATO commitments, and to consult with Poland's leaders about the situation in Ukraine."

Putin's fiery and uncompromising speech outlined the Kremlin's views of the historical ties between Russia and Crimea. He also enumerated historical events, from the U.S. Declaration of Independence to Kosovo's, to the reunification of Germany after the Cold War, that Moscow believes legitimizes Russia's annexation of the strategic Black Sea peninsula.

Not Backing Down

For the most part, the two speeches seemed to be aimed right past one another and neither man showed any sign of seeking compromise.

WATCH some of the key moments from Putin's address at the Kremlin to assail the West and assert Russia's right to annex Crimea:
Putin Says West 'Crossed A Line' Over Ukraine
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At times, Putin's speech was more about relations between Russia and the United States over the last two decades than about Crimea. "In their practical policies our Western partners, spearheaded by the United States of America, prefer the rule of the strong to international law," he said. "They came to believe in their exclusivity, in being the chosen ones; they feel they are allowed to rule the fate of the world and that they are the only ones to always be right."

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Putin cited the expansion of NATO and plans to install missile defenses in Europe as evidence that the West continues a policy of "containing Russia" that he said stretches back to the 18th century.

Biden rejected such reasoning and dismissed Russia's annexation of Crimea as a "land grab." He said the Kremlin had "offered a variety of arguments to justify what is nothing more than a land grab, including what was said today. But the world has seen through Russia's action and has rejected the logic, the flawed logic behind those actions."

He added that the Ukraine crisis was a challenge to NATO. "Recent events remind us that the bedrock of our alliance remains collective self-defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO treaty," Biden said. "Our intent is that NATO emerges from this crisis stronger and more unified than ever."

He added that missile-defense plans were on schedule and will be completed.

Biden also stressed that Putin's actions on March 18 will certainly lead to more sanctions by the United States and the European Union.

Putin, however, had anticipated him and more. "Are we ready to consistently insist on our national interests or will we forever give them up and retreat who knows where? Some Western politicians are trying to scare us not only with sanctions, but with the possibility of worsening domestic problems," he said.

"I'd like to know -- what do they have in mind? The actions of some sort of fifth columns, various types of national-traitors? Or are they thinking they can worsen the social and economic situation in Russia and by doing so provoke popular discontent? We will consider such statements as irresponsible and plainly aggressive and we will react to them in the proper way."

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