ST. PETERSBURG, May 23 (RIA Novosti) – The number of victims in Crimea could have been even larger than in the tragedy in Odessa if Russia had not reunified with the peninsula, which was the right thing to do, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Friday.
“If we hadn’t done that, then we would have had larger tragedies than those we see in several cities in Ukraine today, for example, in Odessa, where unarmed people were simply burned alive after being herded into a building: almost 50 people were burned, and another 50 have gone missing. Where are they? Actually, they’re also dead. So we didn’t let that type of tragedy happen in Crimea and I think we did the right thing,” Putin said.
Crimea, a former republic within Ukraine, reunified with Russia following a referendum in mid-March. Citizens of the peninsula voted for separation from Kiev, where a regime change in late February brought nationalistic leaders to power who threatened the rights of the Russian-speaking population of the country.
After Crimea’s reunification with Russia, anti-government rallies swept other southeastern regions of Ukraine, where pro-federalization supporters refused to recognize Kiev’s interim government and held referendums on greater autonomy on May 11.
In response, Ukraine’s interim authorities launched a military operation to crack down on protesters, leading to violent clashes and dozens of casualties. The largest death toll was seen in the port city of Odessa, where almost 50 people were killed in a fire at the Trade Unions House, with most of the victims dying of smoke inhalation or after jumping out of windows.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned Kiev’s use of force against its own people and demanded a transparent investigation into the Odessa tragedy.