Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a draft agreement to make Ukraine’s Crimea region part of Russia, in a move likely to further escalate tensions with Ukraine and the West.
Putin also formally informed his government and the Russian parliament Tuesday of Crimea’s request to join Russia.
The news of Putin’s steps to incorporate Crimea come a day after he signed a decree recognizing the Crimea as “a sovereign and independent country.”
Putin signed the decree in defiance of the U.S. and the European Union, which had declared Crimea’s referendum to secede from Ukraine illegal.
After many warnings, Washington and Brussels imposed their first sanctions on Russian officials Monday for their backing of the Crimean vote.
Crimean officials said the final ballot count showed 97 percent of voters favoring independence from Ukraine, but senior White House officials told reporters they have “concrete evidence” that some ballots in the referendum were pre-marked when they arrived in cities before the vote.
The Obama administration, the European Union and a host of legal analysts have repeatedly said the Crimean referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law.
Obama said Vice President Joe Biden is heading for Europe to discuss the situation with NATO leaders. The president himself is slated to to go Europe next week.
Earlier Monday, the European Union designated 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine for travel bans and trade sanctions.
In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday voiced “deep disappointment” with Sunday’s secession vote. A spokesman said Ban, who has sought to resolve the crisis, fears the vote will further heighten tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.
In Kyiv Sunday, Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote “a circus spectacle” directed at gunpoint by Russia.