By Neil MacFarquhar
New York Times News Service
MOSCOW — Putting his personal seal on the annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin traveled Friday to the naval port of Sevastopol, where he used the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany to assert that Moscow had the right to take over the Black Sea peninsula.
Over the past decade, Putin has gradually turned Victory Day into a celebration of resurgent Russian power and nationalism. The visit to Sevastopol, in southwestern Crimea, the historical home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was a potent manifestation of his goal of reviving Russia as a global power.
The West reacted to the annexation in March with sanctions against Putin’s closest circle of advisers and against a few significant companies. By going to Sevastopol, the Russian president effectively told Western leaders that Moscow would do as it pleased.
Putin’s visit coincided with new clashes in eastern Ukraine. Victory Day celebrations there were marred by an attack by Ukrainian government forces on a police station in Mariupol, where at least seven people were killed.
In his speech on a naval quay, Putin, as he did at a ceremony in Red Square earlier in the day, stuck to the patriotic themes of the day: strength, heroism, struggle and resilience.
Speaking for less than four minutes, he ran through Sevastopol’s history: its naming by Catherine the Great 230 years ago; a 250-day Nazi siege the city endured; and its vote to rejoin Russia in March.
“I think 2014 will also be an important year in the annals of Sevastopol and our whole country, as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, and thus confirmed their faith in the historic memory of our forefathers,” Putin said in remarks broadcast nationwide.
“There is a lot of work ahead, but we will overcome all the difficulties because we are together, and that means we have become even stronger,” he said.
The annexation provoked the worst tensions between Russia and the West since the height of the Cold War. Putin has maintained that the territory had long belonged to Russia and that he was only righting a historical wrong. Separatists in Crimea, backed by the Russian military, organized a referendum in March in which an overwhelming majority of the residents, many of them ethnic Russians, chose to come under the control of Moscow.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine immediately issued a statement protesting Putin’s visit. It accused Putin of ignoring international law, the demands of the international community that Russia not occupy Crimea and a treaty between Russia and Ukraine that calls on both countries to respect their mutual borders.