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Published: Thursday March 20, 2014 MYT 5:50:02 PM
Updated: Thursday March 20, 2014 MYT 5:50:02 PM

Russia says will complete legal moves to absorb Crimea this week

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The legal process required to make Crimea part of Russia will be completed this week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to bring the Ukrainian region into Russia on Tuesday and the lower house of parliament was expected to ratify it later on Thursday. The upper house will follow suit on Friday.

"Practical steps are being taken to implement the agreements on the entry of Crimea and (the Crimean port city of) Sevastopol into Russia," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying. "The legal process will be completed this week."

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

Lavrov blamed the West in a veiled reference to he United States, saying 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.

SWIFT MOVES ON INTEGRATION

In addition to ratifying the treaty annexing Crimea, Russia's lower house, the State Duma, plans to adopt legislation required to make Crimea and Sevastopol - which is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet - regions of Russia.

Both chambers are loyal to Putin and is doing his bidding over Crimea.

The treaty goes into force once ratified and stipulates that Crimea will be fully integrated into Russia after a transition period ending on January 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 percent of its electricity, 90 percent 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 ($1.53 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.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Denis Pinchuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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