By Rebecca Shabad - 03/17/14 03:01 PM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Crimea as a sovereign and independent state.
According to the Kremlin’s website, the decree recognizes the will of the Crimean people in the referendum held on Sunday.
Nearly 97 percent of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, reports said.
Crimea is an autonomous peninsula in Ukraine with a population that has an ethnic Russian majority.
Annexation could be his next step, however, as members of Crimea’s parliament are expected to head to Moscow soon to discuss further procedures required to join Russia.
Putin appears to be moving quickly to potentially take control of Crimea, whose parliament declared independence Monday and initiated the process to join Russia.
President Obama made clear on Monday that the United States does not view Crimea’s referendum as legitimate. From the White House, Obama formally announced sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, some of whom are aides to Putin.
The White House also said on Monday it isn’t ruling out imposing sanctions against Putin himself, which could happen if Russia does not change course.