The regional parliament in Crimea approved a declaration of independence from Ukraine on Tuesday and once again expressed its desire to join the Russian Federation.

The resolution was backed by 78 of the 100 members of the legislative body and took effect immediately, a parliamentary spokesman told the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

"Crimea, as an independent state, will go to the Russian Federation after the referendum (on reunification with Moscow) to propose integration with Russia as a federative subject," the Crimean parliamentary spokesman said.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the Crimean Peninsula, a majority Russian-speaking region, to Ukraine in 1954.

Ukrainian officials labeled the move by the regional parliament illegal.

Crimea's declaration of independence is "illegitimate" because the parliament is "totally illegitimate," the Ukrainian permanent representative to the United Nations Organization Branch and other International Organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Yurii Klymenko, said.

"The authorities in Crimea are illegitimate because they were elected in violation of the existing procedures and in violation of all of Ukraine's laws, in fact, in violation of the constitution. The leaders of Crimea are illegitimate, the legislators are illegitimate, so if the legislative body is illegitimate, then the resolutions it passes are, obviously, illegitimate," Klymenko told Efe.

The Crimean Parliament voted last week to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia on March 16, and the declaration of independence approved on Tuesday says the vote will provide the backing for leaving Ukraine.

Ukraine's government contends the referendum is illegal.

"We do not recognize the referendum because it is unconstitutional and illegitimate. Because it contradicts current Ukrainian legislation. The decision to change the territory can only come from a referendum in all of Ukraine, a national referendum," Klymenko said.

Moscow deployed troops in the Crimean Peninsula, claiming it was protecting ethnic Russians and Russia's interests in the area.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, which has been the home of the naval force since the 18th century.

The Crimean Peninsula, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, is home to 2 million people; ethnic Russians make up 60 percent of the population, while 25 percent of residents are ethnic Ukrainians and 12 percent are Crimean Tatars. EFE