Russia formally moves to swallow Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the first official steps to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation, approving a draft bill that would formalize the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.

A notice of the draft bill was posted Tuesday morning on a Russian government website ahead of an address by Putin to Russia's State Duma — Russia's parliament.

That address is expected to take place at 3 p.m. Moscow time (7 a.m. ET) in a nationally televised speech where he is widely expected to stake Russia's claim on Crimea.

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The United States and the European Union have so far announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the crisis in Crimea, which was part of Russia from the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.

On Sunday, some 97% of voters in Crimea backed a referendum for a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and the huge neighboring country, according to election officials there, but the U.S. and Europe maintain that the election was illegal and have refused to recognize it.

Some experts have speculated that Putin's ultimate ambition is to protect ethnic Russians across the former Soviet empire.

"Putin is prepared to keep on pushing," Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told the Associated Press. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if he moves into other points into eastern Ukraine."

Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Poland Tuesday on a trip designed to show U.S. resolve against Russia's intervention in neighboring Ukraine. He is meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski. He'll also meet with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Later, Biden will fly to the Baltic nation of Lithuania to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's president, Andris Berzins. Latvia and Estonia share borders with Russia, and Poland and Lithuania are nearby.


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