Ukraine crisis: Putin and Crimean leaders sign treaty

Moscow (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed this weekend's referendum in Crimea, saying Tuesday that the nearly 97% of its residents who voted to join Russia was "an extremely convincing figure."

Putin, speaking to a joint session of Parliament in Moscow, stressed the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Crimea.

"In our hearts we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia," he said.

Crimea is an autonomous region within Ukraine with a majority Russian-speaking population. It has its own parliament, but the Ukrainian government had veto power over its actions.

With political instability and demonstrations rocking Ukraine in the past several months, President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out of office and observers charged that Russia saw its chance to annex the strategic territory. A hastily called referendum Sunday resulted in 96.7% of the region's voters saying they wanted to become part of Russia, according to the Crimean Electoral Commission.

The President denied that Russia had been militarily involved in Crimea, despite what has been stated by authorities in the Ukraine capital and international observers.

"We have not used our armed forces in Crimea," Putin said.

He also said that Russia's military forces did not enter Crimea in the current crisis, but "were already there" in accordance with previous international negotiations.

Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol but the movements of its forces within Crimea are supposed to be agreed upon with Kiev.

Putin, whose remarks were punctuated by regular and enthusiastic applause, also accused the West of "double standards" and cynicism in its response to the crisis Crimea, citing Kosovo, which split from Serbia, as an example of a precedent.

"It's absolutely in favor of their own interests -- black today, white tomorrow," he said.

Crimea is a strategically important territory and must be kept strong -- something only Russia can do, he added.


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