Russian president recognises Ukrainian region as an independent country hours after EU and US announce sanctions.
Ignoring the toughest sanctions against Moscow since the end of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognised Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula as an “independent and sovereign country”.
The brief decree posted on the Kremlin’s website on Monday came just hours after the United States and the European Union announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis.
Tensions between Russia and the West have soared since Russian troops took effective control of Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula last month and supported the Sunday referendum that overwhelmingly called for annexation by Russia.
Putin took a step closer to formally annexing the majority ethnic-Russian region by recognising its independence from Ukraine, opening the way for Russian lawmakers to later endorse its accession.
The US placed sanctions on seven Russian officials, including deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and four Ukrainians accused of usurping Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including ousted President Viktor Yanukovich.
“These are by far the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War,” said a senior US official.
President Barack Obama warned the sanctions would target economic power brokers in Moscow if the Kremlin does not back down from its current course of action.
“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.