- (Photo: Reuters)
President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Crimea is part of Russia in people's hearts and minds after signing a treaty recognizing the Ukraine's region as an independent state, despite the United States and Europe imposing new sanctions on Russia's senior political and military leaders.
"In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This commitment, based on truth and justice, was firm, was passed from generation to generation," said Putin, in an address to a joint session of parliament Tuesday after approving a draft treaty to make Crimea part of Russia, Reuters reported.
"Crimea is our common property and a very important factor in the stability of the region," Putin said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "This strategic territory should be under a strong, sovereign state and that in fact can only be Russia."
Russian lawmakers are expected to finalize the ratification process later Tuesday.
The signing of the decree follows Sunday's "referendum" in which voters in the Crimea peninsula allegedly overwhelmingly supported joining Russia.
"It will be right if in Crimea, and I know that Crimeans are supporting this, there will be three equal languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Crimea Tatar," Putin added.
The referendum came weeks after Ukraine's parliament removed pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22. More than 82 people died during the three months of anti-government protests that began following Yanukovych administration's suspension of preparations for signing an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, in favor of closer economic relations with Russia.
Yanukovych soon fled to Russia, and ethnic Russian forces seized Crimea without any violence, a move that was harshly criticized with warnings by the U.S. and European nations. The Crimean peninsula, an autonomous republic in the southeastern region of Ukraine, was part of Russia until 1954.
Putin blasted Ukraine's new leaders. "Those who were behind recent events, they were ... preparing a coup d'état, another one. They were planning to seize power, stopping at nothing. Terror, murder, pogroms were used," he said, describing them as "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites."
"Our Western partners headed by the United States prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun," Putin added. "They have come to believe in their exceptionalism and their sense of being the chosen ones. That they can decide the destinies of the world, that it is only them who can be right."
On Monday, the U.S. and the European Union announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis.
"Further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia," U.S. President Barack Obama said announcing sanctions against seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials Monday.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden criticized Russia's actions as a "land grab" and said, "The world has seen through Russia's actions and has rejected the flawed logic."
Next week's G7 meeting will be held on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit at The Hague that will likely be attended by President Obama. "The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G7 might take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
U.K.'s Prime Minister David Cameron also issued a statement.
"The steps taken by President Putin today to attempt to annex Crimea to Russia are in flagrant breach of international law and send a chilling message across the continent of Europe," he said, according to The Telegraph. "It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun. President Putin should be in no doubt that Russia will face more serious consequences and I will push European leaders to agree further EU measures when we meet on Thursday."