MOSCOW, June 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the Russian military’s high moral and professional skills ensured a peaceful referendum in Crimea.
Congratulating the graduates of military academies and institutions on the successful completion of their studies, Putin praised Russian officers for their “professionalism, patriotism and virtue.”
“These specific qualities have prevented bloodshed in Crimea and established the conditions for holding a free referendum on reunification with Russia,” the Russian president said.
Addressing the graduates in the Kremlin, the president said they will “define the future of the country’s armed forces, preserve and strengthen their invincible spirit and force, and develop the great military traditions of their predecessors.”
“I am sure that each of you feels this high responsibility,” Putin added.
Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region that was undemocratically gifted to Ukraine by Soviet leaders 60 years ago, rejected the legitimacy of the new Western-backed government, and moved to rejoin Russia in March, after the government in Kiev introduced measures aimed against Russian-speakers in the country.
During a live Q&A session in mid-April, Putin said Russian military personnel backed Crimea during the open referendum and acted correctly and professionally.
Putin also said Russia’s task was to create conditions for the free will of Crimean residents to be heard, and that measures needed to be taken to avoid the development of events similar to what is occurring in southeastern Ukraine.
Russian officials have many times stressed that Russian troops in Crimea were a pre-agreed contingent that protected Russia’s Black Sea Fleet facilities. According to Russian officials, a deal with Ukraine stipulated that 25,000 troops could be deployed to the Black Sea Fleet and that number was not exceeded.
Russia said the Crimean referendum, widely denounced by the West, was fully compliant with international law and must be recognized as legitimate.