31/12/2014 11:13 GMT | Updated 31/12/2014 11:59 GMT

Putin's New Year Speech Hails Crimea's Historic 'Return Home'

AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a recording of his annual televised New Year's message in the Kremlin in Moscow on December 27, 2012, with the Assumption Cathedral and the Troitskaya Tower in the background. AFP PHOTO/RIA POOL/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty Images)

President Vladimir Putin has used his New Year's speech to hail Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

He said Crimea's "return home" will "forever remain a landmark in the national history."

His comment in his prepared annual address already has been broadcast in Russia's far eastern regions, where the holiday was celebrated hours ahead of Moscow, given the time difference.

After Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president was driven from power, Moscow sent troops to overtake Crimea, home to a Russian naval base. Those forces blocked Ukrainian military garrisons and set the stage for a hastily called referendum on Crimea joining Russia, which Ukraine and the West rejected.

The West has since introduced sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian leader also used the turn of the year to tell US President Barack Obama that Moscow is looking for equality in bilateral relations next year.

The Kremlin on Wednesday published several dozen New Year's messages addressed to heads of states and international organizations such as the Olympic Committee and FIFA.

Putin reminded Obama of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and said that it should serve as a reminder of "the responsibility that Russia and the United States bear for maintaining peace and international stability." Moscow is anxious for the relations to advance but only as long as there is "equality and mutual respect."

Conspicuously absent from the list of the recipients of New Year's messages was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.