Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony to launch the two power plants in Crimea, Sevastopol, March 18, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

SIMFEROPOL: Russia on Monday marked the fifth anniversary of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, a move condemned by Kiev and its Western allies but celebrated by most Russians.

President Vladimir Putin was to take part in celebrations in the Black Sea peninsula, launching a power station and meeting members of the public, the Kremlin said.

Moscow took over Crimea in March 2014 after months of tensions with Kiev following the ouster of a pro-Russian leader.

Russia said it was righting a historic wrong — Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had transferred Crimea to Ukrainian control in 1954 — and the move resulted in a major boost to Putin’s popularity.

But the takeover was denounced by Kiev and the West as an annexation and, along with Moscow’s support for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east, has led to wide-ranging sanctions against Russia.

In Russia, March 18 has been officially proclaimed the “Day of Crimea’s Reunification with Russia” and celebrated with events across the country.

City authorities in Moscow organised a street festival called “Crimean Spring” hosting jazz concerts, cooking workshops and a photography exhibition a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

Up to 10,000 people were expected to take part in a flash mob in the Moscow region on Monday, dancing to the Soviet-era song “Waltz of Sevastopol” — the Crimean city home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Hundreds are expected to participate in another flash mob recreating the Russian flag in the Crimean seaside resort Yalta.

‘Part of Russia forever’

Putin signed an agreement on March 18, 2014 with local representatives to make Crimea part of Russia, two days after a referendum condemned by Kiev and the West as illegitimate.

Pro-Kremlin media on Monday praised the 2014 events as “the restoration of historical justice” and said the peninsula is thriving under Russian rule.

“There is growing understanding in the world that Crimea is part of Russia and will be forever,” Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, wrote in a column for newspaper Izvestia.