Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a controversial speech insulting Ukrainian activists and reaffirmed a pledge to build a contentious bridge between the peninsula and Russia during a visit Wednesday to the annexed region of Crimea.
Putin said Ukrainian activists had been disruptive in the region, sabotaging power bridges that service a population of 2.6 million and leading to faulty energy supplies. These actions border on “crimes against humanity,” Putin said of the activists, according to the Moscow Times. “And the human rights organizations don’t say a word. They clam up and go silent but in fact we’re looking at a serious crime.”
Activists first cut power lines last year, leaving millions without power and vowing to keep things that way until Russia releases political prisoners from the Crimean conflict and begins allowing international organizations to monitor human rights there. The activists, members of the Tatar minority ethnic group in the peninsula, claim that their basic human rights are being neglected as the government represses them and imprisons them for their opposition to Russia's annexation of Crimea. They have been blamed for repeatedly cutting power to the peninsula. Hackers at one point even sabotaged the power grid digitally, which has also been blamed on the activists.
“I’m simply in awe of the people who live in Crimea and in Sevastopol, and I admire how they’ve reacted to what’s happening,” Putin said about the power outages. “They display real composure, courage, and a willingness to fight for their own interests. The people [in Ukraine] who did all this — it’s so stupid…. What were they hoping to achieve? I don’t even know — that everyone would fall to their knees and beg for a handout? It’s simply amazing. These people are amazing idiots.”
Putin also promised to build a bridge between Crimea and Russia. The bridge, which critics say would also be susceptible to mud volcanoes and earthquakes, is scheduled to be completed in December 2018, the Moscow Times reported.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, which contests Russia’s claims on the peninsula, sent a formal letter of protest Wednesday to Moscow that said the Russian president had failed to get approval from Kiev before setting foot in “Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russian Federation.”
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 after a highly contentious election in which official results showed that 96.77 percent of Crimean residents wanted to join Russia. The annexation came after an influx of pro-Russian soldiers into the peninsula who did not have insignias on their uniforms but were said to be connected to Russia.