Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Ukraine's Crimea region as a sovereign state.
The decree posted on the Kremlin's website appeared to be a first step toward integrating Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation.
The decree, which took effect immediately, says Moscow recognition of Crimea as independent is based on "the will of the people of Crimea".
Crimea's leaders declared a Soviet-style 97-percent result in favor of seceding from Ukraine in a vote condemned as illegal by Kiev and the West. The Crimean parliament formally proposed that Russia "admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic".
Putin will address the issue at a special joint session of the Russian parliament on Tuesday.
First published March 17 2014, 11:39 AM