Putin signs Crimea treaty, while foreign minister slams sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying Ukrainian protests and Western sanctions, signed a treaty today making Crimea part of Russia but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.
In a fiercely patriotic address to a joint session of parliament in the Kremlin, punctuated by standing ovations, cheering and tears, Putin said Crimea's disputed referendum vote on Sunday, held under Russian military occupation, had shown the overwhelming will of the people to be reunited with Russia.
To the Russian national anthem, Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty on making Crimea part of Russia, declaring: "In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia."
Parliament was expected to begin ratifying the document within days.
The speech drew immediate hostile reaction in Kiev and the West. Ukraine's foreign ministry said it did not recognize the pact, which showed how Russia posed a threat to international security.
US Vice President Joe Biden, on a visit to Poland, called Moscow's action a land grab and stressed Washington's commitment to defending the security of NATO allies on Russian borders.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Russia's move on Crimea was unacceptable to the international community, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London had suspended military cooperation with Russia.
Earlier, Putin told parliament that Russia will move forward with procedures to annex Ukraine's Crimean region.
Putin signed an order "to approve the draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on adopting the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation". The order indicated the president would sign the treaty with Crimea's Russian-installed leader, who is in Moscow to request incorporation into Russia, but it gave no date.
The move followed a disputed referendum in Crimea on Sunday, staged under Russian military occupation, in which a Soviet-style 97 percent of voters were declared to have voted to return to Russian rule, after 60 years as part of Ukraine.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Western sanctions over the dispute were "unacceptable" and threatened consequences.
The two senior diplomats spoke by telephone hours after President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty in the Kremlin making Ukraine's Crimea peninsula part of Russia, despite an outcry from Kiev and the West.
"(Crimea) republic residents made their democratic choice in line with the international law and the UN charter, which Russia accepts and respects," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said, "while the sanctions introduced by the United States and the European Union are unacceptable and will not remain without consequences."
Yesterday the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, most of whose 2 million residents are ethnic Russians.
Lavrov's remarks echoed comments by Putin who said Western attempts to frighten Russia with sanctions would be viewed as an act of aggression, and that Moscow would retaliate.
Kerry reiterated Washington's position that the referendum and the takeover of Crimea were "illegal" and "unacceptable", State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"We don't accept them and there will continue to be costs and consequences," she told a briefing. "We are continuing to prepare additional sanctions and we haven't taken options off the table."