Putin Calls Crimea Russia's 'Temple Mount'

While slamming western sanctions, Putin says annexed Crimea is sacred to Russians 'as Temple Mount is to Muslims and Jews.'

Ari Yashar ,

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday made a surprising statement during his annual state of the union address, in which he talked about his country's "absolutely legitimate" annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March amid a Russian military invasion.

According to Putin, the historic landmarks of Crimea are sacred for Russians, and are as important to them "as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who profess Islam and Judaism."

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, whereas Muslims list it third among holy sites and pray facing Mecca. It has been noted that Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran, and Muslim Arab rioters have attacked police frequently on the site recently, desecrating it as well through soccer games and dumping trash.

Putin said Crimea is "strategically important," and in elaborating the historical connection said "it was here in Crimea in ancient Khersones or Korsun as the chroniclers called it, that Count Vladimir was baptized (in the 10th century) to then baptize the rest of Rus."

However, Kiev-based political analyst and director of Berta Communications thinktank Taras Berezovets was quoted in the LA Times saying "his historic claim that the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy was in Crimea is totally absurd as it contradicts the official Russian Patriarchy's line that Russian Orthodoxy stems from Kiev and the Dnieper River."

Berezovets added that Ukraine intends to sue Russia in international courts over the annexation, and the ongoing destruction in the Donbas region which NATO officials say has been backed by armed Russian convoys crossing the border.

Putin also criticized western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, although many say the blame is meant to cover Russian mismanagement that has led to a local economic downturn.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said that Moscow was responsible for the sanctions due to its actions, speaking in a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCEE) in Basel, Switzerland.

"It is not our design or desire that we see a Russia that is isolated through its own actions," said Kerry. "In fact we are convinced that Moscow could rebuild trust and relationships if it simply helps to calm turbulent waters, if it takes steps now to implement the Minsk Protocol," referencing the truce between Russia and Ukraine.