Putin and Crimea: What Did He Actually Say?

Western media seems to regard the March 2015 documentary “Crimea: The Way Home” as Putin finally coming clean on the use of Russian armed forces in what is described as an “annexation” of Crimea.   However, public statements as far back as April 17, 2014 show that Putin has discussed the use of Russian troops to ensure the Crimean referendum went ahead and indeed, the main points of the events he describes in the documentary.

This article is about what Putin has publicly said and his stated views, and not about whether his views are deceiving or wrong.

March 31, 2015

When the Russian documentary “Crimea: The Way Home” was released (now with English subtitles) in March 2015 coinciding with the 1st anniversary of the Crimean referendum on March 16, 2014, there were many discussions in Western media on what Putin “admitted to” in this documentary.

Specifically his mention that Russian Armed Forces were directly involved in backing local Crimean forces and blocking Ukrainian troops from inflicting violence on citizens, was seen in Western media as a major admission amidst a year of strenuous denials.

It’s instructive to go back to the record and see exactly what Putin said and when.

The database of record used is the English version of the Kremlin database (eng.kremlin.ru). 

Please note this is not about whether Putin means what he says or states, or whether one agrees with him or not.  It’s simply a look at his public statements.

Meeting with Media on March 4, 2015

This was the first public Q&A after the February 22, 2014 coup/revolution in Kiev.  It’s a must read to understand how Putin states the history in Ukraine from Independence, the events leading up to February 22 and the actions till March 4.

In particular he states:

March 4, 2014: Putin on Events of Feb 22, 2014 and after

This is the stated, consistent starting point for his reactions.   Then he talks about legitimacy of Yanukovych (the same argument incidentally that in March 2015, the U.S. goverment and Saudi Arabia are currently using to attack Yemen to support the deposed Yemeni President)

March 4, 2014: Putin on violence against anti-Maidanists post-coup/revolution

He then talks about the legitimacy of the Crimean parliament and then answers the question about the identity of the “people blocking the Ukrainian Armed forces” for the first time. 

March 4, 2014: Putin denying Russian troops were involved in ensuring Crimean referendum

After prevaricating on a first question, he denies on the second question that there are Russian soldiers augmenting the self-defense forces.

There is a further exchange on legitimacy and this following amusing exchange with a Reuters correspondent.   

March 4, 2014: Putin on the Budapest Referendum

Dial In Program on April 17, 2014

In a dial-in program answering questions post-referendum and after Crimea became part of Russia, Putin answers the following question about whether the Crimean referendums and security measures were pre-planned  

April 17, 2014: Putin on Crimean referendum logistics

And then he is specifically asked this question:  

April 17, 2014: Putin states Russian troops involved in ensuring Crimean referendum

So on April 17, 2014, he clearly states that the Russian troops were present to block Ukranian armed forces in Crimea.

Note: earlier he is asked the following question 

April 17, 2014: Putin categorically denies Russian troops in Donbass

So at this point (and before any large scale violence has broken out in Donbass) he’s denying the presence of any Russian advisors or troops there.

Press Conference of June 24, 2014

Following talks with Austrian President Fischer there was a press conference in which he was asked again about Russian troops. 

June 24, 2014: Putin reiterates use of Russian troops to ensure Crimean referendum

So once again, he talks about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and his rationale for them.

Valdai Meeting on October 24, 2014

The Valdai speech and the Q&A with Russian and Western journalists needs to be read in full by anyone seeking to understand the totality of Putin’s stated position.

Here’s the excerpt that regards to a question on Crimea.

October 24, 2014: Putin reiterates using Russian armed forces to ensure referendum

Here once again Putin re-iterates the use and presence of Russian troops and his stated rationale.

Conclusion

After an initial evasion on March 4, 2014, prior to the Crimean referendum, from as early as April 17, 2014, Putin has on many occasions been very clear and consistent on the use of Russian armed forces in Crimea to ensure the conduct of the referendum, and his stated views on the legitimacy of using these troops, the legitimacy of the referendum and the legality of the secession of Crimea from Ukraine and the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation. 

Thus the March 2015 documentary “Crimea: The Way Home” thus only adds details to his very public statements on Crimea.

Epilogue

There are other interesting details mentioned in the documentary that don’t seem to have been widely discussed.  Like the allegation that NATO trained Ukrainian forces were in Crimea which had to be cordoned off.

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