MOSCOW, March 18 (RAPSI) – The 1954 decision by leader Nikita Khrushchev to hand over the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine was unconstitutional, President Vladimir Putin said in an official address to federal and regional officials Tuesday.

Crimea, a largely Russian-speaking republic within Ukraine, was part of Russia until it was gifted to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954. President Putin said in his address that the decision was made with evident violations of the constitutional norms prevailing at the time.

The Russian President added that Sunday’s referendum, which resulted in Crimea professing its independence from Ukraine, was conducted in full accord with democratic principles and international law.

Putin added that one must be familiar with Crimean history to understand the desire of its people to reunite with Russia.

The president further added that Ukraine appealed to the UN Charter when declaring independence from USSR, and pointed out that Crimea acted similarly.

President Putin drew parallels between the struggles for independence in Crimea and Kosovo, and accused the West of employing double standards.

Putin signed a decree Monday recognizing Crimea as an independent state, following a referendum Sunday that saw voters overwhelmingly support secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia.

Crimea’s leadership has refused to recognize as legitimate the new government in Ukraine that came to power following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

The US and EU imposed sanctions Monday on senior Russian officials, including visa bans and asset freezes, in protest of Russian support of Crimea's actions.

On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers will consider imposing reciprocal sanctions against the US and EU.