President Vladimir Putin has taken the first steps to absorb the Ukrainian region of Crimea into Russia, in what would mark the most significant redrawing of Europe’s borders since World War II.
Putin officially informed parliament of Crimea’s request to join Russia and instructed the national branches of power to approve an agreement for Crimea to become part of the country.
The seizure of Crimea by pro-Russian forces following the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych last month has been condemned around the world and the US and European Union on Monday issued the first sanctions against a handful of Russian officials.
But such sanctions are unlikely to deter an increasingly defiant Putin, with 97 per cent voting to split from Ukraine and become part of Russia in a weekend referendum in the region.
“The president is going to set out his position over the request of Crimea to become part of Russia in line with the result of the referendum,” said Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the State Duma lower house of parliament.
Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it from Russia.
Russia now appears set to present the absorption of Crimea as a just response to a request made by a state that is already independent, albeit recognised by no one but Moscow.
Asset freezes and travel bans announced by the US and the European Union have been billed as the most significant sanctions against Moscow since the end of the Cold War.
President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials, including deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, and four Ukrainians accused of usurping Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including the ousted Yanukovych.
“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” Obama warned.
The European Union also unveiled travel bans and asset freezes against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including Vice Admiral Alexander Vitko, the head of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Those targeted under Obama’s executive order will see assets and interests in the US or under US jurisdiction blocked and Americans will be barred from doing business with them.