MOSCOW, February 28 (RIA Novosti) – Lawmakers in Russia introduced a bill in parliament on Friday to simplify the absorption of new territories into the country in what will be widely interpreted as a signal that Moscow may be planning to gain control over Ukraine’s mainly ethnic Russian-populated region of Crimea.
The legislation comes as Russian troops reportedly blockaded an airport in the Crimean city of Sevastopol in what Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, has described as an armed invasion.
Under the bill, authored by the Kremlin-loyal opposition party A Just Russia, the decision on the accession of a part of a foreign state to Russia should be taken through a referendum.
“There have been cases in international practice when a part of a state joined another state without an international treaty being signed. Moreover, international law does not require the conclusion of such a treaty with a foreign state,” the lawmakers said.
Its authors said the legislation, which comes amid political turmoil in Ukraine, stems from Russia’s obligations under a friendship agreement signed in 1997.
Under the deal, Russia and Ukraine agreed to take measures aimed at preventing actions inciting violence against groups of citizens over national, ethnic or religious intolerance.
The A Just Russia party also introduced another bill Friday easing the procedure for granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians. Russia’s lower house of parliament will consider the legislation on March 11, said Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the parliament’s constitution and state affairs committee.
In recent days, a series of pro-Russia demonstrations have taken place across Crimea. Protesters have said at those gatherings that they do not recognize the current government in Kiev and have called for Russian intervention.
Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred to the Ukrainian republic within the Soviet Union. Russia has a large naval base on the peninsula for which it recently extended a lease until 2042.