Putin Inspects Naval Ships in Sevastopol, Says Crimea's Return to Russia Confirms 'Historic Truth'إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
President Vladimir Putin reviewed Russian ships in the port of Sevastopol on Friday as he visited Russia's naval base in the Crimean port for the first time since Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.
Russian television showed live footage of Putin standing on a white vessel passing at least 10 navy ships in the port, stopping at each to congratulate the sailors for Victory Day, Russia's celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The president hailed Crimea's return to Russia as a "historic truth."
"2014 will go down in history... as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, thus confirming their loyalty to historic truth," he told a cheering crowd in Sevastopol.
"Much work remains ahead, but we will overcome all difficulties... because we are together. And that means we are even stronger."
NATO's head condemned Putin's visit to Crimea and said the military alliance has seen no evidence Moscow has pulled its troops back from Ukraine's border.
"We still consider Crimea as Ukrainian territory and from my knowledge the Ukrainian authorities haven't invited Putin to visit Crimea, so from that point of view his visit to Crimea is inappropriate," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"We consider the Russian annexation of Crimea to be illegal, illegitimate, and we don't recognize it," he said in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
NATO's Rasmussen also confirmed the Western defense alliance still saw nothing to indicate that Putin was withdrawing Russian troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border.
Rasmussen arrived in the ex-Soviet Baltic state of Estonia from Poland on Thursday to lead a two-day meeting delegation of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's main political decision-making body.
The 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have responded to Russia's intervention in Ukraine by stepping up defenses in Eastern Europe, sending warships, fighter jets and troops to the region.
The build up is scheduled to end on December 31, but the alliance has said it could become permanent.
Meanwhile, Kiev protested Putin's visit to Crimea as a "flagrant violation" of Ukraine's sovereignty.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that "Ukraine expresses its strong protest over the unapproved May 9 visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and to Sevastopol city, which are temporarily occupied by Russia."
The foreign ministry said the visit "blatantly ignored Ukrainian legislation and international law."
"This provocation once again confirms that Russia deliberately seeks further escalation of tensions in Russian-Ukrainian relations and does not want to resolve problematic issues... through diplomatic channels," the statement said.
Later on Friday, the White House warned that Putin's visit to Crimea will only exacerbate tensions.
"We do not accept Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. Such a visit will only serve to fuel tensions," National Security Council spokesman Laura Magnuson said.