Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty Tuesday to make the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia, just two days after residents voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and the European Union declared illegitimate.
Putin signed the document with Sergei Askyonov, the prime minister of Crimea’s regional government, and other officials, including Aleksei Chalov, the mayor of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based.
The Kremlin said on its website that Crimea “shall be deemed accepted in the Russian Federation from the date of signing the treaty.”
The treaty was signed shortly after Putin told Russia’s parliament in a televised address that Crimea has always been an “inalienable” part of Russia, and a day after he signed a decree recognizing the peninsula as “a sovereign and independent country.”
The Russian parliament is expected to begin the process of ratifying the treaty within days, the Itar-Tass news agency cited a senior lawmaker as saying.
“We will begin ratification soon. This will happen in the next few days,” lower house vice-speaker Alexander Zhukov said.
The Black Sea peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum Sunday that the U.S. and the European Union declared illegal.
But Putin said Tuesday that the referendum complied with democratic and international norms.
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.
Putin also declared Kyiv the cradle of Russian civilization and expressed hope Russia and Ukraine can continue to co-exist.
But with reports of several incursions by Russian or Russian-backed armed personnel in eastern Ukraine, outside of Crimea, there is rising concern throughout the country whether Russia will be satisfied with only annexing Crimea.
Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says there is “convincing evidence” Russian special services are organizing unrest in the eastern part of the country.
“There are saboteurs who have been arrested,” Yatsenyuk said. “There is no place in Ukraine for these warmongers.”
Some Ukrainians tell VOA their families, even in the central part of the country, are stocking up on bread, water and medication, due to concerns tensions will escalate in the next several months amid worries there could be war.
Putin says Moscow has no designs on other parts of the former Soviet republic.
In 1954, Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev gifted the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian republic, then part of the USSR.