Putin signs Crimea treaty

Putin said he has no plans to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov (L), Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantionov (2nd L) and Alexei Chaly, Sevastopol's new de facto mayor (R), join hands after signing a treaty on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula becoming part of Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow . Picture: AFP.

MOSCOW - Defying Ukrainian protests and Western sanctions,Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday making Crimea part of Russia again but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

In a fiercely patriotic address to a joint session of parliament in the Kremlin, punctuated by standing ovations, cheers and tears, Putin said Crimea's disputed referendum vote on Sunday, held under Russian military occupation, had shown the overwhelming will of the people to be reunited with Russia.

As the Russian national anthem played, Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation, declaring: "In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia."

Parliament is expected to begin ratifying the treaty within days.

Putin later told a flag-waving rally in Red Square beneath the walls of the Kremlin that Crimea has returned to "home port".

Russian forces took control of the Black Sea peninsula in late February following the toppling of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich by a protest movement sparked by his decision to spurn a far-reaching trade deal with the European Union last November and seek closer ties with Russia.

Putin's speech drew immediate hostile reaction in Kiev and the West.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said the conflict in Crimea had moved from a political to a military stage and he had asked his defence minister to call an urgent meeting with his Russian, US and British counterparts.

"Today Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen. This is a war crime."

He was referring to an incident at a compound near the Crimean capital Simferopol in which a military spokesman said a Ukrainian officer was shot dead and another injured when "unknown forces, fully equipped and their faces covered" attacked the base.

Witnesses said there was no immediate evidence that Russian soldiers were involved in the shooting. A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman declined immediate comment.

US Vice President Joe Biden called Moscow's action a "land grab" and stressed on a visit to Poland Washington's commitment to defending the security of NATO allies on Russian borders.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Russia's move was unacceptable to the international community, while Britain suspended military cooperation with Russia.

"It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun," British Prime Minister David Cameron said, threatening Putin with "more serious consequences".