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Crimea has always been part of Russia -Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed this weekend’s referendum in Crimea on Tuesday, saying the 96% who voted to join Russia was “an extremely convincing figure.”

Putin, speaking to a joint session of Parliament in Moscow, also stressed the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Crimea, and said Crimea is an inalienable part of Russia.

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

Putin earlier formally notified his nation’s parliament of Crimea’s accession request and signed a draft order on the agreement, the Kremlin said.

The move comes a day after Putin signed a decree recognizing Ukraine’s Crimea region as a sovereign state.

In Sunday’s contested referendum in Crimea, 97% of voters cast ballots in favor of divorcing Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed the vote as illegal.

“The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russia economy,” Obama said.

Western powers slapped sanctions on more than two dozen Russian officials and their allies in Crimea, while Ukrainian officials vowed they would never accept the territory’s annexation by Russia.

But the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, shrugged off the sanctions Tuesday, going so far as to draft a statement calling for all its members to be listed.

“Our position is clear. We do not betray our own. We will never betray Russian-speaking citizens or those who live on Crimean territory who have made the decision to be with Russia,” the statement said, according to state news agency ITAR-Tass.

“Today we suggest that the Americans include all the members of the Duma on their sanctions list. Our principles aren’t for sale and we aren’t afraid of sanctions.”

The order signed by Putin also said it was considered “practical” to sign the agreement at the “highest possible levels.”

A number of procedural steps must be followed in order to add members to the Russian Federation, including approval from Russia’s Constitutional Court and the Duma, ITAR-Tass said.

But the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matvineko, told state-run Russia-24 TV that the process need not take long, ITAR-Tass reported.

“We shall be acting strictly in compliance with the law. The procedure will not take long. All can be done rather promptly,” she is quoted as saying.

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