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Crimea Crisis: Russian Parliament to Review New Annexation Law

<p>The bill would allow regions such as Crimea to join Russia after a referendum or a vote by lawmakers.</p>
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MOSCOW - The Russian parliament is set to look at a bill that would make it easier to annex neighboring territories such as Ukraine's Crimea region, a lawmaker said Friday.

The bill would allow the annexation of any "territory where people have expressed distinct will and wish to become part of Russia," Mikhail Yemelianov told Russia's RIA Novosti. The proposed law would allow Crimea to become part of Russia after a referendum or a vote by lawmakers.

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, is also due to draft a law in the next two days allowing Ukrainians to assume Russian citizenship.

Crimea is the only autonomous region of Ukraine and the only one to have its own constitution and a separate parliament. Most of Crimea’s 2 million inhabitants speak Russian, and describe themselves as Russian - even if they hold Ukrainian passports.

Volodymyr Konstantynov, who is the leader of the Crimean parliament, announced plans on Thursday for a referendum on his region's future. On Friday, he told the Itar Tass news agency that he still recognizes the ousted Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine's president.

"The situation in Ukraine is complicated and unpredictable," Yemelyanov, who is deputy leader of A Just Russia, the political party proposing the law, told Itar Tass. "It is necessary for Russia to have a maneuver in case the process of Ukraine's breakup continues."

Ukraine finds itself at the center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union. Separatist sentiment has stoked fears that an east-west split could trigger a civil war.

These political overtures are an indication that Moscow is seizing on the failure of Russian-influenced Crimea to get behind last week's regime change in Kiev, which followed months of deadly pro-West demonstrations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already announced snap military drills along the Russia-Ukraine border. And armed men have conducted a series of occupations in government buildings and two airports, although it was unclear who was behind this.

Alexander Smith reported from London.