Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and Black Sea fleet commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko watch events to mark Victory day in Sevastopol May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
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President Vladimir Putin flew in to Crimea on Friday for parades marking the Soviet victory in World War Two, his first visit since annexing the peninsula from a Ukraine that Russia says has been taken over by fascists.In east Ukraine, where pro-Moscow rebels plan a referendum on Sunday to follow Crimea in breaking from Kiev, up to eight people were reported killed in the port of Mariupol, one of the bloodiest clashes yet between Ukrainian forces and separatists. The head of NATO, locked in its gravest confrontation with Russia since the Cold War, condemned Putin's visit to Crimea, whose annexation in March has not been recognised by Western powers. Earlier on Friday, Putin presided over the biggest Victory Day parade in Moscow for years.In Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet previously had to lease its base from Ukraine, servicemen and veterans marched in a parade before Putin's arrival that also included armoured vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles.The ethnic Russian majority among Crimea's two million population broadly welcomed the Russian takeover that came in the wake of the Kiev uprising. Given by Soviet leaders to Ukraine only in the 1950s, many Russians long saw it as rightfully theirs.
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