Putin makes first Crimea visit for military parade as US sends commandos to Baltics

As Russia flexes military might with Victory Day parades, US special forces take part in training exercises across the Baltic states

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Crimea today for his first visit to the region since it was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March.

The triumphant visit saw him attend a massive naval parade in Sevastopol to mark 69 years since the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, which occupied Crimea for two years during World War Two.

Mr Putin was present at a similar event in the capital’s Red Square Friday morning, which gave Moscow an opportunity to flex its military muscles as the worst relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War endure, amid continued unrest in eastern Ukraine, where dozens were reportedly killed today. 

In what looks to have been one of the bloodiest clashes in the east yet, Kiev backed Ukrainian security forces claim to have on Friday killed 20 pro-Russian separatists in the port of Mariupol, where a proportion of residents are planning to hold a Crimea style referendum on Sunday.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said an attempt by what he called “terrorists” to seize police headquarters turned into a pitched battle inside the building with Ukrainian army, national guard and security force personnel.

Tanks roll through Moscow's Red Square during the annual Victory Day parade (AFP/Getty)

“A terrorist group of about 60 men armed with automatic weapons attacked the police headquarters...About 20 terrorists were destroyed and four taken prisoner,” Avakov said on his Facebook page.

“To those who come with weapons and who shoot and who take hostages, torture them, rob people, hiding behind various slogans - to them there can be only one answer from the Ukrainian state - annihilation.”

The death toll has not been independently verified.

The clashes and Mr Putin's visit to Crimea come as the US prepares to send hundreds of commandos to the Baltic states over the coming months as part of an ongoing effort to reassure allies in the region.

The Pentagon said around 40 special operations forces are now taking part in the two-week Exercise Spring Storm training exercise in Estonia. A further 140 will participate in Exercise Flaming Sword, which will move

The leaders of the Baltic states have expressed particular concern to the US and Nato, of which they are all members, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Like Crimea, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were once controlled by neighbouring Russia and maintain large Russian populations.

Speaking from the Estonian capital Tallinn, Nato's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen branded Mr Putin's Crimea visit "inappropriate".

Mr Rasmussen also reiterated that he had no visible confirmation that Russian troops had withdrawn from Ukraine's border. Russia's Foreign Ministry had said Mr Rasmussen was “blind” after he earlier stated he had seen no signs Russian withdrawal.

In Red Square on Friday morning, Mr Putin made no reference to Ukraine as he praised the Soviet role in defeating fascism and said those who defeated fascism must never be betrayed.

The appeal to not forget the people who defeated fascism did however have a poignant ring as Moscow has warned of the dangers posed by leaders it portrays as neo-fascists in Ukraine, and has urged Europe to prevent the rise of the far-right.

He delivered the speech to soldiers and war veterans after watching troops, tanks, artillery and mobile ballistic missile launchers file past him and jet fighters scream overhead.

“The iron will of the Soviet people, their fearlessness and stamina saved Europe from slavery. It was our country which chased the Nazis to their lair, achieved their full and final destruction, won at the cost of millions of victims and terrible hardships,” he said.

“We will always guard this sacred and unfading truth and will not allow the betrayal and obliteration of heroes, of all who, not caring about themselves, preserved peace on the planet.”

Putin is set to travel to France in early June for a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing, in what will be his first encounter with Western leaders since the start of the Ukrainian crisis.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before