Putin visit to Crimea irks US, European Union

Kiev: President Vladimir Putin’s first visit to Crimea since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March was condemned by the US and European Union.

Also there were fresh deadly clashes in south-eastern Ukraine as Putin arrived in Crimea, BBC reported.

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The US state department said the trip was “provocative and unnecessary”. The Kiev government called it a “gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Putin’s trip provocative and unnecessary, adding: “Crimea belongs to Ukraine and we don’t recognise of course the illegal and illegitimate steps by Russia in that regard.”

US National Security Council spokeswoman Laura Magnuson said the visit “only served to fuel tension”.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the EU “regretted” the presence of Putin at a military parade in Crimea’s port of Sevastopol.

Putin Friday praised Crimea for joining Russia, as he marked the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II. But his visit triggered deadly clashes in south-eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said at least 20 pro-Russian activists and a Ukrainian security officer were killed in the clashes in the port of Mariupol.

The government said there was a gun battle when pro-Russian activists tried to storm a police headquarter.

Some witnesses and residents accused the security forces of opening fire on unarmed protesters who had entered the building. Local officials put the casualties at seven and 39 injured.

Crimea voted to join Russia in March – in a referendum dismissed by Kiev and the West as illegal.