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By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

For anyone who blinked and missed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s swift seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, there’s now a giant silver coin celebrating the Kremlin leader for bringing the territory “back home.”

The coins issued by the Art Grani foundry in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk feature Putin’s bas relief image on one side and a map of the Crimean peninsula on the other.

“Crimea’s reunification with Russia was a historic event which we decided to embody in a souvenir collection of coins,” Vladimir Vasyukhin, director of the Ural Mountains foundry, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Vasyukhin last year visited Crimea and returned with fond memories of the peninsula, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in its article Tuesday about the new coins.

“And just like that the peninsula has come back home to Russia,” Vasyukhin said of the annexation last month. He added that with the recovery of the territory, Putin had “demonstrated the qualities of a wise strategist and politician.”

The unilateral annexation has been condemned by most world powers as a violation of international law in changing another country’s borders by armed force.

Russian troops deployed throughout Crimea in late February, occupying military, transport and communications sites ahead of a quickly staged referendum in which 97 percent of those who voted declared support for secession from Ukraine and annexation to Russia. Two days after the March 16 vote, Putin signed documents to make Crimea part of Russia again.

The peninsula that has hosted Russia’s Black Sea fleet throughout its history was part of Russia for centuries before Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. It made little difference to which republic the peninsula belonged when all 15 were united within the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet breakup in 1991, Russia was forced to lease back its military bases from Ukraine and lost governing authority over the predominantly ethnic Russian population of 2 million.

The first issue of 25 of the commemorative coins, which are the size of a hockey puck and weigh 2.2 pounds each, will be given to Kremlin officials, Itar-Tass said.

Neither the foundry nor the Russian news sources that wrote about the special “Crimea 2014 Collection” said how much the coins will cost or when a broader quantity will be available to collectors and the general public.

NATO-Russia Council via Flickr

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