Crimea’s absorption into Russia complete
President Vladimir Putin signed into law Crimea’s absorption into Russia as his defence chief dispelled concerns about Russia’s possible invasion of Eastern Ukraine.
Shortly after the Russian Parliament’s upper house on Friday ratified Crimea’s accession treaty, Mr. Putin signed the ratification act and a law creating two new administrative units in Russia: Crimea and separately, the city of Sevastopol, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
It took the Kremlin less than a week to complete legal formalities for making Crimea a part of Russia following an overwhelming vote in Crimea last Sunday for breaking with Ukraine and rejoining Russia.
The Russian leader ordered festive fireworks in Crimea and Moscow to celebrate the region’s reunion with Russia.
Speaking at the signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Mr. Putin asked the government and the Parliament to ensure “smooth” integration of Crimea into Russia’s legal, economic and social system.
Russia has already started issuing its passports to Crimean residents. Authorities said all residents of Crimea will get Russian passports within three months, and those who do not wish to switch citizenship will be able to retain Ukrainian passports. Crimea will begin shifting to the Russia rouble within a week, but some shops already accept roubles. Crimean authorities said that from next month all salaries and pensions in the peninsula will be paid in roubles.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel in a telephone call on Thursday that Moscow had no plans to move troops into Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions.
Responding to Mr. Hagel’s concerns about Russian military movements near Ukraine’s border Mr. Shoigu said the Russian forces were not engaging in any “activity that threatens Ukraine’s security.”
The Kremlin on Friday announced plans to step up economic pressure on Ukraine even as the West is assembling an emergency aid package for Kiev.
Mr. Putin supported Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal to demand that Ukraine pay back $11 billion in “advance” gas discounts Moscow had given Kiev under a 2010 agreement to extend the Russian lease of the Sevastopol naval base from 2017 to 2042. Mr. Medvedev said that together with Ukraine’s other debts Russia’s claims amount to $16 billion.
Moscow on Friday also threatened a painful backlash to new Western sanctions announced a day earlier.