Putin Won't Give Crimea Back To Ukraine, As Russian Soldiers Move Closer To Europe

It's only been 24 hours since Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to the public eye and his reappearance has already been exhaustingly eventful. On Sunday, it was revealed in a Russian documentary that the president had placed "nukes" on alert in 2014 during the battle over the Crimean Peninsula. Now, Putin claims he will never, ever return Crimea to Ukraine, even though most of the Western world hates him for it.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov defended the nearly one-year-long annexation of Crimea, which officially became part of the Russian Federation on March 21, 2014. The controversial annexation followed a coup, backed by Russian officials, of the Ukrainian president in early 2014, as well as a complete militarized takeover of Crimea's Simferopol International Airport. Crimea residents, who are largely ethnic Russians, also supported the annexation in a voter-approved referendum.

“There is no occupation of Crimea," Peskov told reporters, via Reuters. "Crimea is a region of the Russian Federation and of course the subject of our regions is not up for discussion."

This puts Russia in a precarious situation, as the European Union and the United States won't lift their sanctions against Russia until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. The West has been clear that removing Crimea's annexation from the negotiating table is not an option.

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In a statement on Tuesday, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States "reiterates its condemnation" of the Crimea annexation and "sham 'referendum'" that further drove a wedge between Russian relations with the West. "We do not, nor will we, recognize Russia’s attempted annexation and call on President Putin to end his country’s occupation of Crimea," Psaki said.

The referendum was also controversial as it gave Crimea residents no option to stay as part of Ukraine. Crimea residents had to choose between full independence or Russian annexation, which Psaki labeled a "false choice."

She continued:

Over the last year, the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated dramatically, with mounting repression of minority communities and faiths, in particular Crimean Tatars, and systematic denial of fundamental freedoms. Local residents have been detained, interrogated, and disappeared and NGOs and independent media have been driven out of the peninsula. These brutalities are unacceptable and we call on Russia to stop further abuses.

Russia, of course, has continued to deny these allegations. But Putin's determination to keep Crimea under Russian control is also alarming, as the Russian president just authorized nearly 40,000 troops on Monday to practice military drills in the Arctic. A statement from Russia's Military of Defence, 38,000 soldiers, 3360 vehicles, 41 combat ships, 15 submarines and 110 aircrafts will be under combat readiness inspection in the Kola Peninsula until March 21.

The Kola Peninsula sits next to Sweden, Norway and Finland, placing Russian troops closer to the former Eastern Bloc countries in the Baltics and beyond. Many of these former Soviet satellite nations, including Poland, are now taking measures to prepare their militaries.

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