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The Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea on Tuesday passed a "declaration of independence," paving the way for it to join Russia after this weekend's referendum.
Although it will not immediately come into force, the law shows "how much of a hurry [Crimean leaders] are to join Russia before anyone else can do anything about it," according to analyst Keir Giles, associate fellow at British-based think tank Chatham House.
Since the regime change in Kiev last month, Crimea has been the stage of pro-Moscow protests and occupations of strategic positions by Russia-supporting forces.
Tuesday's declaration of independence was passed by a huge majority in the Crimean parliament, with only three of its 81 members voting against or abstaining.
According to a translation posted in the journal New Eastern Europe, the declaration states that if Crimeans vote to join Russia as is widely expected, the peninsula will become one of Russia's independent republics, similar to Dagestan or Ingushetia in the North Caucuses.
The alternative presented to voters is a return to Crimea's 1992 constitution, which was hastily imposed after the fall of the Soviet Union and abolished soon after. It refers to Crimea as a "Soviet state" that can decide itself how much control Kiev will have. In an article for Chatham House on Monday, Giles said this "would be a step toward notional independence under Russian control."
Crimean legislators are so eager to come under Moscow's rule, Giles added, that the referendum date has already been moved forward twice, leading to the popular joke: "The latest date for the referendum has just been announced –- it was yesterday."