MOSCOW, March 18 (RAPSI) – President Vladimir Putin has approved a draft treaty between Crimea and Russia on the autonomous republic’s accession to the Russian Federation, according to a statement posted on the Kremlin’s website Tuesday.

Crimea, a peninsula of some 2 million people, has resisted the authority of the leadership that came to power in Kiev last month. 96,7% of Crimean voters backed the region’s accession to Russia and independence from Ukraine on Sunday on the referendum.

Ukrainian and Western leaders have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and unconstitutional, while Moscow insists the Crimeans – a majority of whom identify as ethnic Russians – should be allowed to determine their own destiny.

Crimean Republic decided to secede after a prolonged political crisis resulting in a de facto ouster of Viktor Yanukovich.

On February 22, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (parliament) impeached Viktor Yanukovich and amended the constitution. Presidential authority was assigned to parliament speaker Alexander Turchinov and a presidential election was scheduled for May 25.

President Vladimir Putin said during a press conference earlier in March that Yanukovich remains Ukraine’s legitimate president