The government in Moscow will recognize Crimea's independence in a bilateral pact before turning to consideration of the territory's request to join the Russian Federation, the speaker of Russia's parliament said Monday.
More than 96 percent of Crimeans who cast ballots in Sunday's referendum on rejoining Russia voted "yes."
"Independence will be recognized through the signing of an accord between states," Sergei Naryshkin told reporters, adding that Crimea's bid for re-incorporation as part of Russia would be addressed in a "rapid and responsible" manner.
The speaker said he hoped that most Ukrainians would show "respect and understanding" for Crimeans' decision to separate from Ukraine.
Ethnic Russians make up around 60 percent of the population of the Crimean peninsula, which then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to make part of Ukraine in 1954.
"I have said, and I wish to insist, that, for us, Ukraine is a partner, and no temporary difficulty or circumstances should change those relations of partnership between the two countries, much less turn them into rivals," Naryshkin said.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol since the 18th century.
Following Ukrainian independence in 1991, Kiev and Moscow signed a treaty allowing Russia to keep its ships in Sevastopol and to station up to 30,000 military personnel on the peninsula.
Relations between authorities in Kiev and the Russian-speaking majority in Crimea have been uneasy throughout the post-Soviet period.
Russians in the Crimea reacted with alarm last month when a government including far-right Ukrainian nationalists took power in Kiev. Moscow deployed troops in the Peninsula, claiming it was protecting ethnic Russians and Russia's interests.
The United States and its allies denounced Sunday's referendum in the Crimea as contrary to international law and have threatened to impose sanctions on Russia.
Russia's foreign ministry on Monday asked the United States and the European Union to join with Moscow in forming a multilateral support group to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
The proposed group should respect "the interests of the multiethnic population of Ukraine" and Ukrainians' desire "to live in safety," the ministry said in a statement.
The statement also urges constitutional reforms to make Ukraine a federal state, followed by internationally monitored elections to choose new national and regional leaders.
Once that process is complete, Ukraine's "sovereignty, territorial integrity and neutral political-military status will be guaranteed by Russia, the European Union and the United States through a U.N. Security Council resolution," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. EFE