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Putin: Russia did not prepare to incorporate Crimea

"I made final decisions only after the mood of the people became clear," Russian President Vladimir Putin says

NOVO-OGAREVO, April 10. /ITAR-TASS/. "Russia did not prepare to incorporate Crimea, the decision on the republic's accession to Russia was made only after data were received about the mood of local residents", President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with activists of the All-Russian People’s Front on Thursday.

"I made final decisions only after the mood of the people became clear, because we had not been preparing for such developments," Putin stressed.

“If we had not known about such a position (of Crimea’s population), we would not have acted that way (to incorporate the region),” he said.

The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, signed reunification deals with Russia on March 18 after a referendum two days earlier in which an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

Putin said first public opinion polls conducted secretly made clear what mood people had. “It became finally clear that we chose the right policy,” the Russian president admitted, adding that polls showed 80% of Crimea’s residents and a higher percent of Sevastopol dwellers were for joining Russia.

“I would like to join the words of gratitude to Crimeans and Sevastopol residents for the position they took,” he said.

Putin said Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based, has a very good potential.

He recalled that the day before, he spoke to his envoy to the Crimean Federal District, Oleg Belaventsev, and will soon meet with Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov and Sevastopol head Aleksei Chalyi to discuss the existing problems.

Crimea’s accession to Russia came after a coup in Ukraine in February 2014 that occurred after months of anti-government protests, which often turned violent. The Crimean leaders refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities, who appear unable to restrain radicals and ultranationalists. Moscow does not recognize the new leadership in Kiev either.

Work to integrate the Crimean Peninsula into Russia’s economic, financial, credit, legal, state power, military conscription and infrastructure systems is actively underway now that Crimea has become part of the Russian Federation.

Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783, when it was conquered by Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, transferred it to Ukraine's jurisdiction as a gift.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine and remained in that capacity until March 2014, when it joined Russia.

According to the Crimean and Ukrainian statistics bodies, as of early 2014, Crimea had a population of 1,959,000 people; Sevastopol has a population of 384,000 people.

As of late 2013, Russians accounted for 58.5%, Ukrainians for 24.3%, Crimean Tatars for 12.1%, Belarusians for 1.4% and Armenians for 1.1% of Crimea’s population.