President Vladimir Putin addressed a rally in Moscow Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, saying that any attempt from abroad to make life difficult for his country is a “futile pursuit.”
“Of course, we will overcome, and are overcoming, all the problems and difficulties they try to throw at us from outside,” the Russian president told the crowd, estimated by the Moscow police at around 90,000 people.
Also Wednesday, Putin opened a Kremlin meeting on Crimea’s socio-economic development by saying he wanted “to congratulate once again” all Crimeans and Russian citizens for Crimea’s accession to Russia. He also thanked everyone living in Crimea and its port Sevastapol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, for “their bravery and the restraint that they showed.”
The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russian officials and businesses after Russia annexed Crimea in March of last year. The U.S. and EU also imposed the sanctions on Russia for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In his remarks at the Kremlin meeting, Putin said the sanctions for annexing Crimea were “not fatal,” but he conceded they were “damaging.”
Putin, who initially denied his country’s forces had occupied Crimea, said in a documentary broadcast on Russian state television Sunday that he ordered Russian forces to enter the peninsula under the guise of reinforcing Russian military facilities there. Russian forces already had bases in Crimea under an agreement reached with Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, a leading international human rights group has accused Crimea’s Moscow-installed authorities of having “resorted to an unrelenting campaign of intimidation to silence dissent.”
Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday that the Black Sea peninsula’s de facto authorities “have failed to investigate a series of abductions and torture of their critics.”
The London-based organization says that since Crimea’s annexation, at least seven people have been abducted, and that their fate remains unknown. It says at least one other abducted person has been found dead, with signs of torture. The victims include Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian activists.
Amnesty International says the Moscow-installed authorities in Crimea have created a “climate of fear,” using intimidation and restrictive laws to silence the media and non-governmental organizations, and that public protests “have effectively been banned.”