Putin Visits Crimea on 5th Anniversary of Annexation
Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the fifth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine with a visit to the area.
Putin began his trip Monday by overseeing the launch of two new power stations. He praised completion of the centers, which he said will cover up to 90 percent of Crimea's power needs.
Putin said, "Today another important step has been taken to strengthen the energy security of the Crimean Peninsula and of the whole south of the Russian Federation."
The power stations are part of a major effort to make a modern Crimea. It began after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The annexation of Crimea was condemned by the international community. The European Union (EU) and United States placed economic restrictions on Russia for the action. Ukraine says it wants Crimea back and most countries still recognize it as Ukrainian territory.
Putin claims that Russia "re-integrated" Crimea after the ouster of Ukraine's former pro-Russian president in 2014. He has said the action was necessary to protect ethnic Russians that make up the majority of Crimea's population from Ukrainian nationalists.
The annexation gave Russia hundreds of kilometers of coastline along the Black Sea. It also expanded Russian control over economic activities in the Sea of Azov and provided an opening to possible energy resources around the Black Sea.
Last year, Putin attended the launch of another major development project – a bridge linking southern Russia to the Crimean city of Kerch. The 19-kilometer bridge cost $3.6 billion to build. A railroad bridge is also being built as Russia seeks to expand direct supply links to Crimea.
Ukraine cut off energy to Crimea and blocked supply shipments from its territory after the annexation.
While Putin was celebrating the 5th anniversary in Crimea, NATO and the European Union once again criticized the annexation.
In a statement Monday, NATO allies said "we strongly condemn this act, which we do not and will not recognize." The NATO allies also criticized Russia's military buildup in Crimea.
The statement also accused "Russian de-facto" officials in Crimea of carrying out human rights abuses. These included "arbitrary detentions, arrest, and torture" against members of the Crimean Tartar community, NATO said.
The statement demanded that Russia "bring an immediate end to all violations and abuses in illegally annexed Crimea" and let international observational organizations into the area.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini repeated the organization's position that Crimea remains a part of Ukrainian territory, saying Europe stands "in full solidarity with Ukraine."
I'm Jonathan Evans.