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Updated: Tue, 18 Mar 2014 07:52:50 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Crimea crisis: Putin approves draft bill to annex Crimea



Members of a 'Maidan' self-defense battalion take part in a training at a Ukrainian Interior Ministry base near Kyiv. Ukraine's parliament, seeking to boost the country's military force in the face of Russia's takeover of the Crimea peninsula, endorsed a presidential decree on Monday to carry out a partial mobilization involving 40,000 reservists. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Members of a 'Maidan' self-defense battalion take part in a training at a Ukrainian Interior Ministry base near Kyiv. Ukraine's parliament, seeking to boost the country's military force in the face of Russia's takeover of the Crimea peninsula, endorsed a presidential decree on Monday to carry out a partial mobilization involving 40,000 reservists. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin strode to the podium at the Duma, Moscow’s opulent parliament building, to a standing ovation and immediately asked for a round of applause for Crimea.

Putin’s speech, delivered in Russian, was watched closely across Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world. Putin highlighted some of Russia’s plans for Crimea, which voted to rejoin Russia in a widely-condemned referendum on Sunday. 

The Russian president said the Crimean vote was held in full accordance with democratic procedures and international law. 

"The (Crimean) issue has a vital importance, a historic importance for all of us," Putin said

Putin also said Russian relations with “brotherly” Ukrainians will always be important to Russia.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea, one of a flurry of steps to formally take over the Black Sea peninsula.

The decree signed by Putin and posted on the official government website Tuesday morning is one of the steps which would formalize the annexation of Crimea. Russia, however, still has room to back off. The treaty to annex Crimea has to be signed by leaders of Russia and Crimea and then ratified by the parliament.

The United States and the European Union on Monday announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis. U.S. President Barack Obama warned that more would come if Russia didn't stop interfering in Ukraine.

Russian troops have been occupying the region for more than two weeks.

Russian lawmakers responded caustically to the sanctions, urging the U.S. and EU to impose the same penalties on hundreds more members of parliament, reported Reuters.

A declaration adopted unanimously by the State Duma lower house said: "We propose to Mr. Obama and the ... Eurobureaucrats to include all State Duma deputies who voted in favour of this resolution on the list of Russian citizens affected by U.S. and EU sanctions."

Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. Both Russians and Crimea's majority ethnic Russian population see annexation as correcting a historic insult.

Pro-Russian demonstrations

Ukraine's turmoil, which began in November with a wave of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych and accelerated after he fled to Russia in late February, has become Europe's most severe security crisis in years.

Russia, like Yanukovych himself, characterizes his ouster as a coup, and alleges the new authorities are fascist-minded and likely to crack down on Ukraine's ethnic Russian population. Pro-Russia demonstrations have broken out in several cities in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, where the Kremlin has been massing troops.

Fearing that Russia is prepared to risk violence to make a land-grab, the West has consistently spoken out against Russia's actions but has run into a wall of resistance from Moscow.

Reacting to Monday's sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared that they were "a reflection of a pathological unwillingness to acknowledge reality and a desire to impose on everyone one-sided and unbalanced approaches that absolutely ignore reality."

"I think the decree of the president of the United States was written by some joker," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, one of the individuals hit by the sanctions, said on his Twitter account.

Biden arrives in Poland

The White House imposed asset freezes on seven Russian officials, including Putin's close ally Valentina Matvienko, who is speaker of the upper house of parliament, and Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin's top ideological aides. The Treasury Department also targeted Yanukovych, Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov and two other top figures.

The EU's foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine.

"We need to show solidarity with Ukraine, and therefore Russia leaves us no choice," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Brussels.

Despite Obama's vow of tougher measures, stock markets in Russia and Europe rose sharply, reflecting relief that trade and business ties were spared.

"I guess the market view is that Russia forced their case in Crimea, pushed through the referendum, and the Western reaction was muted, so that this opens the way for future Russian intervention in Ukraine," said Tim Ash, an analyst who follows Ukraine at Standard Bank PLC.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Poland on a trip designed to show U.S. resolve against Russia's intervention in neighbouring Ukraine.

Biden landed in Warsaw on Tuesday morning. He planned to meet there with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski. He'll also meet with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Biden will fly later Tuesday to the Baltic nation of Lithuania to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's president, Andris Berzins. Latvia and Estonia share borders with Russia, and Poland and Lithuania are nearby.

Ukraine won't give up

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, ethnic Russians applauded Sunday's referendum that overwhelmingly called for secession and for joining Russia. Masked men in body armour blocked access for most journalists to the parliament session that declared independence, but the city otherwise appeared to go about its business normally.

"We came back home to Mother Russia. We came back home, Russia is our home," said Nikolay Drozdenko, a resident of Sevastopol, the key Crimean port where Russia leases a naval base from Ukraine.

A delegation of Crimean officials was to fly to Moscow on Monday and Putin was to address both houses of parliament Tuesday on the Crimean situation, both indications that Russia could move quickly to annex.

In Kyiv, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov vowed that Ukraine will not give up Crimea.

"We are ready for negotiations, but we will never resign ourselves to the annexation of our land," a sombre Turchynov said in a televised address to the nation. "We will do everything in order to avoid war and the loss of human lives. We will be doing everything to solve the conflict through diplomatic means. But the military threat to our state is real."

The Crimean parliament declared that all Ukrainian state property on the peninsula will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean Republic. It gave no further details. Lawmakers also asked the United Nations and other nations to recognize it and began work on setting up a central bank with $30 million in support from Russia.

Moscow, meanwhile, called on Ukraine to become a federal state as a way of resolving the polarization between Ukraine's western regions — which favour closer ties with the 28-nation EU — and its eastern areas, which have long ties to Russia.

In a statement Monday, Russia's Foreign Ministry urged Ukraine's parliament to call a constitutional assembly that could draft a new constitution to make the country federal, handing more power to its regions.

State language

It also said the country should adopt a "neutral political and military status," a demand reflecting Moscow's concern that Ukraine might join NATO and establish closer political and economic ties with the EU.

Russia is also pushing for Russian to become one of Ukraine's state languages, in addition to Ukrainian.

In Kyiv, Ukraine's new government dismissed Russia's proposal as unacceptable, saying it "looks like an ultimatum."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya visited NATO headquarters in Brussels to request technical equipment to deal with the secession of Crimea and the Russian incursion there.

NATO said in a statement that the alliance was determined to boost its co-operation with Ukraine, including "increased ties with Ukraine's political and military leadership."

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