People take part in a rally in the Crimean city of Yalta on March 18, 2016, to mark two years since the Black Sea peninsula rejoined Russia. ©AFP
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree merging the Crimean Peninsula, which separated from Ukraine and rejoined Russia two years ago, into the mainland’s southern region.
“Reorganize the Southern Federal District and the Crimean Federal District into the Southern Federal District,” read the decree published on the Kremlin’s website on Thursday.
The Russian leader also appointed Vladimir Vasilyavich Ustinov as the presidential commissioner to the Southern Federal District in the decree.
Putin further submitted corresponding legislation amendments to the State Duma.
Ukraine: Putin's order 'null and void'
The decree angered Ukraine, with its UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko rejecting the order as “null and void as any other decision taken by Crimea so far.” He asked the UN Security Council to issue a statement in response to Putin’s decree.
The ambassador circulated a draft statement calling on the 15-member council, to express its “deep concern” over Putin’s decision and to assert its “full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Yelchenko however said he expected Russia, one of the five countries with veto power on the council, to block the statement. Diplomatic sources have already confirmed that it was rejected by Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), accompanied by senior officials in Crimea, inspects the site of the under-construction bridge across the Kerch strait on March 18, 2016. ©AFP
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum a day earlier.
Moscow defends Crimea’s reunification with Russia as legitimate, saying more than 90 percent of the people in the Black Sea peninsula voted in favor of rejoining the country in the 2014 vote.
After Crimea’s reunification with Russia, violence intensified in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, when Kiev deployed troops to the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk to suppress pro-Russians.
Ukrainian army soldiers patrol the empty streets of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, on February 3, 2015. ©AFP
Two ceasefire deals have been signed between Kiev and pro-Russians, but the shaky agreements have failed to contain the deadly violence which has reportedly killed over 9,000 people.
The Ukraine crisis and Crimea’s reunion with Russia have plunged Kremlin’s relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Since then, the US and some other Western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia over its alleged role in the crisis which the Kremlin denies.