Putin at the Kremlin on Friday. (Reuters)
Moscow, March 21: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia today formally completed the annexation of Crimea, signing into law bills passed by parliament reclaiming the contested province from Ukraine.
Hours earlier, the acting Prime Minister of Ukraine signed a political association agreement with the EU, a pact bitterly opposed by Moscow whose rejection last November led to the overthrow in February of Ukrainian President Viktor. F. Yanukovych.
As he cemented Russian control of Crimea, Putin declared a temporary ceasefire in a tit-for-tat battle of economic and political sanctions between Moscow and the West.
The EU and the US have frozen assets and limited travel of of number of close associates of Putin for their part in Crimea’s annexation.
Putin responded to the moves by banning nine American officials and legislators from Moscow. But today he said he did not see the immediate need for further reprisals, while leaving open the door for future retaliation.
With evident sarcasm, he also said in televised remarks that he would open an account at a Russian bank targeted by the American measures, even as the first effects on the country’s economy became clear.
Russia’s stock market opened sharply lower today as a second rating agency, Fitch, followed Standard & Poor’s in warning that it would downgrade the country’s credit rating in the wake of the punitive American response to Russia’s move to annex Crimea.
Visa and MasterCard ceased operations with Bank Rossiya, the only corporation targeted yesterday by the new sanctions because it served as a “personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”
Putin, meeting with members of his national security council, suggested in televised remarks that the government was still coming to grips with the impact of the sanctions, which targeted 20 people, including senior government officials and businessmen who have grown rich since Putin came to power more than 14 years ago.
Some of those attending the meeting were among those targeted, including Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei B. Ivanov. “We should distance ourselves from them,” Putin joked, his face showing no emotion. “They compromise us.”