Moscow: Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters just outside the Kremlin walls, President Vladimir Putin has described Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula as a move to protect ethnic Russians and regain the nation's "historic roots."
Addressing Wednesday's rally marking the anniversary of the annexation, Putin said Crimea lies at the "roots of our spirituality and statehood."
Crimea's annexation and the subsequent Moscow-backed rebellion in eastern Ukraine prompted the West to impose economic and financial sanctions on Russia. Along with slumping oil prices, they have driven the Russian economy into a recession this year.
But despite the economic downturn and a sharp devaluation of the ruble, Putin's popularity has remained strong at more than 80 per cent. He told the rally that Russia would overcome the "difficulties created from the outside."