Germany's influential finance minister says Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea employed tactics reminiscent of those used by Adolf Hitler to expand Germany's territory before the second world war.
Wolfgang Schaeuble said yesterday that Putin's contention Russian nationals were at risk in Crimea was like Hitler's claim ethnic Germans were being discriminated against in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia before Germany annexed it in 1938.
"Hitler already took over the Sudetenland with such methods," Schaeuble told a school group, but he added that he was not comparing Russia to Nazi Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to comment on the remarks, saying only that she saw the Russian annexation of Crimea as a "violation of international law".
The controversial remarks came as Russia's prime minister made a surprise visit to Crimea, promising to quickly pour funds into the newly annexed peninsula so residents could see positive changes after the Russian takeover.
Dmitry Medvedev pledged that Russia would quickly boost salaries and pensions there and pour in resources to improve education, health care and local infrastructure. A special government ministry has been created to oversee Crimea's development.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine after a hastily called referendum held just two weeks after Russian forces seized the Black Sea region.
Medvedev said the government would create a special economic zone in Crimea - a peninsula of two million people - that would create incentives for business with lower taxes and simpler rules.
Russia also announced it was withdrawing a motorised infantry battalion from a region near Ukraine's eastern border.
The defence ministry did not make clear whether other Russian troops near the border would pull back.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said at talks on Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that progress on resolving the crisis depended on a troop pullback from the border.
Reuters, Associated Press