Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a treaty with two leaders from the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea agreeing to see the region annexed into Russia, and squarely blamed "so-called" authorities in the Ukrainian capital for the ongoing crisis in the country.
Speaking to a joint session of the Russian Parliament, Putin reiterated his stance that the uprising which forced Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country was an illegal "coup d'etat," and applauded the referendum in the Crimean Peninsula calling for the region to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Putin fiercely defend Russia's move to annex Crimea, saying the peninsula "must" become part of the Russian Federation. He said the rights of ethnic Russians had been abused by the new Ukrainian government and Crimea's vote to join Russia was in line with international law, reflecting its right for self-determination.
Backing up his rhetoric, immediately after his address to lawmakers Putin signed a treaty with Crimea's prime minister and parliament speaker to incorporate the Black Sea peninsula into Russian territory.
The agreement has to be endorsed by Russia's Constitutional Court and ratified by both houses of parliament to take effect, but those steps are considered mere formalities.
It was a flurry of steps from the Russian leader on the heels of Crimea's overwhelmingly vote on Sunday to secede from Ukraine and seek to join Russia. The West and Ukraine described the referendum which was announced two weeks ago as illegitimate.
The United States and the European Union on Monday announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis. President Obama warned that more would come if Russia didn't stop interfering in Ukraine.
Russian troops have been occupying the region for more than two weeks.
Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. Both Russians and Crimea's majority ethnic Russian population see annexation as correcting a historic insult.
Ukraine's turmoil, which began in November with a wave of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych and accelerated after he fled to Russia in late February, has become Europe's most severe security crisis in years.