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By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree recognizing Crimea as a “sovereign and independent government” following a controversial vote on the Russian-occupied peninsula to secede from Ukraine, the Kremlin news service announced late Monday.

The swift official recognition of the vote Sunday engineered by Russian nationalists installed in the regional leadership just two weeks ago was likely to enflame an already tense standoff between the Kremlin and an interim leadership in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, which branded the secession vote illegal and provocative.

“Considering the willful expression of the people of Crimea in the all-Crimean referendum, which took place on 16 March 2014, the Republic of Crimea, whose city of Sevastopol has special status, is recognized as a sovereign and independent government,” the decree issued by Putin reads.

Sevastopol is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The only other wording of the statement proclaimed the decree to be in force from the day of its signing.

The referendum on whether Crimea should secede from Ukraine and become an independent state in preparation for annexation to Russia was held just two weeks after Russian troops entered Crimea by the thousands and seized control of the parliament and government headquarters in Simferopol, the regional capital.

Russian troops, some openly bearing their military insignia while others carrying the same arms and uniforms claimed to be local “self-defense forces,” have surrounded most Ukrainian military and commercial installations and ordered those in charge to submit to Russian authority.

Sunday’s referendum also led to the Kremlin-installed regional premier, Sergei Aksenov, declaring that all Ukrainian facilities in Crimea were nationalized with the overwhelming vote — among those allowed to cast ballots — for independence. The local government also appealed to Moscow on Monday to begin the process of inducting Crimea into the Russian Federation.

Crimea was ruled by Russia for centuries before Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the territory to Soviet Ukraine in 1954. It is also the only region of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority of the population.

Most Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars boycotted Sunday’s referendum in protest of the territorial transfer condemned in the West as a violation of the U.N. Charter, the Ukrainian constitution and international law.

Photo: NATO-Russia Council via Flickr

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