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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday that would annex Crimea, where voters on Sunday voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

A defiant Putin defended the decision and dismissed U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia a day earlier.

{mosads}In a speech to both houses of Russia’s parliament, he argued the referendum on Crimea’s succession was legal, and Russia could not abandon Crimea, an area with long ties to his country.

“We couldn’t leave Crimea in the lurch; otherwise we would be considered traitors,” Putin said, according to an interpreter. “[The West says] we are violating norms of international law. It’s good that they realize international laws still exist. It’s better late than never.”

President Obama and other Western leaders have criticized the referendum and argued Putin’s actions would be in violation of international law. The referendum was announced shortly after Ukraine’s pro-Russia president was overthrown.

Putin’s actions and comments are likely to increase tensions over Crimea and Ukraine, which has become the biggest flashpoint between the U.S. and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

Western leaders remain worried Putin could take further actions to gain control of other parts of eastern Ukraine, though Putin dismissed such suggestions on Tuesday.

“Don’t believe Russians will take other regions of Ukraine,” he said.

Obama and European countries announced Monday they were imposing sanctions on Russia to try to punish Putin and cripple his country’s economy. There has been no sign so far that the economic moves will change Russia’s actions.

A scene broadcast from Sevastopol, a city in Crimea, showed a large crowd of people waving Russian flags during Putin’s address. These residents, Putin said, asked Russians to protect them from the crisis in Kiev. Russia needed to help Crimeans reach self-determination, he added. 

Putin denied sending in additional Russian troops into Crimea, despite accusations from the United States. The military had already been in Crimea, Putin claimed, according to international law.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the annexation and Crimean referendum “bogus.”

Putin is expanding his “energy grip” over Ukraine, he said in a statement. 

“If we are serious about challenging Putin’s aggression, the U.S. and our European allies should make an all out effort to break that grip,” Royce said. “Exporting U.S. natural gas would have the added benefit of boosting the U.S. economy and creating American jobs.”

A defiant Putin also accused the West of setting a precedent for his actions. He compared the situation in Crimea and Ukraine to Yugoslavia, where the U.S. backed Kosovo’s separation from Serbia.

“In the case of Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed a line — a red line — they’ve been … irresponsible,” he said.

A report in The Daily Beast said Putin was prepared to impose sanctions against American officials, including several members of Congress.

Putin made no mention of such sanctions in his address and did not note those imposed by the U.S. a day earlier. 

“I’d like to address the people of the U.S.,” Putin said. “They are proud that freedom is above all for them, but what about the free will of the Crimeans? Isn’t this the same value?” 

Putin argued Crimea “has always been an integral part of Russia.”

The region’s population has an ethnic Russian majority, and nearly 97 percent of those voting on Sunday approved leaving Ukraine for Russia, according to officials.

U.S. officials, however, have mocked the referendum, arguing it was rigged.

Putin said it was a “straight-forward” referendum executed in “an open and sincere way.”

“Crimeans have demonstrated their will. They want to be with Russia,” said Putin, stirring overwhelming applause and a standing ovation from members of Russia’s parliament. 

Putin asked Russia’s Federal Council to accept Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as “two new federal parts of Russia.” 

Lawmakers are expected to quickly endorse the request, which some say could take effect by the end of the week, according to reports. 

After the speech, Putin and officials from Crimea signed an agreement that sets the final stage for annexation.

While it remains unclear whether Putin would impose sanctions against Americans, the White House on Monday said it would not rule out imposing sanctions against Putin himself.

This story was updated at 1:55 p.m.

Tags Crimea Crimea Crimean Peninsula Russia Russia Ukraine Ukraine Vladimir Putin
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