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Published: Monday March 31, 2014 MYT 4:50:19 PM
Updated: Monday March 31, 2014 MYT 4:50:19 PM

Russia flaunts grip on Crimea with prime minister's visit

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Crimea on Monday, flaunting his country's grip on the Black Sea peninsula following its annexation from Ukraine.

Medvedev took several government officials with him on the highest-level visit to Crimea since President Vladimir Putin signed legislation on absorbing it into Russia on March 21.

"(I'm) in Simferopol," Medvedev said on Twitter after his plane landed in the main city in the region. "Today the government will discuss the development of Crimea here."

The visit is likely to irk Kiev and Western governments which accuse Moscow of illegally seizing Crimea from Ukraine after the region voted to join Russia in a referendum they described as a sham.

Russia's swift takeover of Crimea, following the ouster of Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich as Ukraine's president in late February, has caused the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.

Medvedev arrived in Simferopol hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris late on Sunday and reiterated that Washington considered Russia's actions in Crimea "illegal and illegitimate".

The United States and EU have imposed sanctions on Russian officials, lawmakers and allies of Putin over Crimea. They are threatening broader measures if Russia, which has forces massed near Ukraine's eastern border, seeks to take more territory.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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