MOSCOW -- Russian leader Vladimir Putin completed his nation's annexation of Crimea on Friday, signing legislation to make the Ukrainian breakaway peninsula part of Russia.
Putin appeared to be in high spirits chairing Russia's Security Council session in the Kremlin to the extent that he was making jokes at the sanctions imposed by the West in reaction to the recent Russian armed seizure of Crimea. He added that Russia would refrain for now from further tit-for-tat sanctions.
“How many physical persons [were on the U.S. and EU sanctions list]?” the Russian president asked Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in televised remarks at the session.
“Twenty,” replied Lavrov.
“We need to stay away from them as they compromise us,” Putin said. All those present laughed.
Putin then said that on Monday he would open a personal account in the Rossiya bank that is run by his close friend Yuri Kovalchuk. The banker is on the sanctions list.
Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, insisted that Russia should demand $16 billion from Ukraine as debts and lost profits in various deals between the two nations over the past decade. Troops from Russia entered Crimea soon after Russian-supported Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev following months of large demonstrations against his rule.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that 72 Ukraine army and navy units stationed in Crimea have gone over to the Russian side since troops from Russia entered Crimea.
At least two units were still resisting the Russian military pressure.
Near Belbek military airport, which is controlled by Russian troops, a Ukraine army unit remained barricaded in its barracks.
[Updated 7:40 a.m. PDT, March 21: "The Ukrainians have placed heavy machine guns around the perimeter of their base and are prepared to protect it at all costs,” freelance journalist Oleg Klimov said in a phone interview to The Times from the scene.]
At Donuzlav Lake, the Ukrainian navy was desperately trying to remove vessels sunk by Russians in the waterway leading out to the Black Sea, UNION news agency reported. The blockage is preventing at least seven Ukrainian naval vessels from getting to the sea.
As Moscow was asserting its rule over Crimea, Ukrainian acting Premier Arseny Yastenyuk signed a political memorandum with the European Union on Friday.
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