Ukraine crisis: Russian foreign minister urges deputies to ratify Crimea treaty

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference in Moscow March 20, 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented a treaty on annexing Crimea to the lower house of parliament on Thursday, March 20, 2014 and urged
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference in Moscow March 20, 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented a treaty on annexing Crimea to the lower house of parliament on Thursday, March 20, 2014 and urged legislators to accept the Ukrainian region as part of the Russian Federation. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented a treaty on annexing Crimea to the lower house of parliament on Thursday and urged legislators to accept the Ukrainian region as part of the Russian Federation.

Approval of the treaty in the State Duma was in no doubt after President Vladimir Putin signed it on Tuesday, and ratification will be complete when the Federation Council, or upper house, votes on the treaty on Friday.

"I am certain the passage of these documents will be a turning point in the fate of the multi-ethnic peoples of Crimea and Russia, who are linked by the close ties of historical solidarity," Lavrov told the State Duma.

Describing annexation of Crimea as needed to protect ethnic Russians there, he said: "To this day, lawlessness continues, and there are daily actions by nationalists, anti-Semites and other extremists on whom the new (Ukrainian) authorities depend."

He added: "The unification of these peoples in one state will promote the well-being and prosperity and serve the interests of Russia."

Russia's moves to annex the Black Sea peninsula, which has a narrow ethnic Russian minority, have turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.

Earlier on Thursday, Lavrov blamed the crisis on the West, without specifically mentioning the United States.

He said Western nations were trying to "preserve their global leadership and display their exceptionalism rather than striving to be guided by international law."

"The events in Ukraine are a reflection of these approaches," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow would continue to use "political, diplomatic and legal methods" to protect Russians abroad.

"We will insist that countries in which our compatriots have found themselves fully respect their rights and freedoms," he said.

Russia accuses the new pro-Western authorities in Kiev of endangering Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

The annexation treaty goes into force once ratified and stipulates that Crimea will be fully integrated into Russia after a transition period ending on Jan 1.

Russia has begun issuing Russian passports to Crimeans, Interfax quoted Russia's immigration agency chief, Konstantin Romodanovsky, as saying.

Crimean voters overwhelmingly backed joining Russia in a referendum on Sunday but the West says the vote was illegal.

The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on officials and lawmakers accused of involvement in the annexation, partially suspended military and trade ties, and threatened more punitive measures.

Russian officials are moving swiftly to integrate the region and bolster an economy that has been dependent on Kiev for 85 per cent of its electricity, 90 per cent of its drinking water and some of its food supplies.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said Russia will cover Crimea's estimated 55 billion rouble (S$ billion) budget deficit with funds from the federal budget.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia would also ensure Crimea has a constant power supply by providing back-up sources and controlling fuel reserves.