Russian President Vladimir Putin used an address before parliament to say that the referendum in Crimea was fully democratic, legal and convincing and that the Ukrainian region in the people's heart of hearts has always been part of Russia.

He expressed his determination to return Crimea to within the Russian fold and said that it was clear that the people of Crimea wanted that as well.

His address, which lasted almost an hour, touched on many points in Russia's near-history and he drew comparisons between the situation in Crimea and Kosovo's independence bid from Serbia.

He also lamented the break up of the former Soviet Union, calling it a historical injustice. He said that Crimea was effectively stolen from Russia and that it remains an inseparable part of the country.

Something that we thought was incredible became reality. The USSR broke down. The events were so quick most citizens could not realize the traumatic effects of what was happening, he said.

Putin denied Western accusations that Russia invaded Crimea prior to the referendum Sunday, saying Russian troops were sent there in line with a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea.

Speaking at the Kremlin, Putin repeatedly emphasized that the Crimea referendum was in full accordance with international law and that the West has crossed the line on Ukraine.

We need to be as strong as ever in future, to rise up to challenges. We will be facing some opposition from the West, Putin said.

We couldn't leave the Crimeans, otherwise it would have been treason, he said in the speech, during which the assembled lawmakers gave him several standing ovations.

In a remark aimed at the West's objections to the referendum, Putin said: Our colleagues in the U.S. and elsewhere tell us we are violating international laws. It is good that they at least remember there are international laws. Better late than never.

Earlier, he took the first official steps to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation, approving a draft bill that would formalize the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. In his speech, he recommended that parliament adopt the law.

After his address, Putin signed a treaty that will pave the way for Russia to annex the break away region, but that still needs to be approved by Russia's State Duma, and it comes as officials in the West have stepped up sanctions.

The United States and the European Union have so far announced freezes of assets and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the crisis in Crimea, which was part of Russia from the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.

On Sunday, some 97% of voters in Crimea backed a referendum for a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and the huge neighboring country, according to election officials there, but the U.S. and Europe maintain that the election was illegal and have refused to recognize it.

Some experts have speculated that Putin's ultimate ambition is to protect ethnic Russians across the former Soviet empire.

Putin is prepared to keep on pushing, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told the Associated Press. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he moves into other points into eastern Ukraine.

Vice President Biden traveled to Poland Tuesday on a trip designed to show U.S. resolve against Russia's intervention in neighboring Ukraine. He'll meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski. He'll also meet with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Later, Biden will fly to the Baltic nation of Lithuania to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's president, Andris Berzins. Latvia and Estonia share borders with Russia, and Poland and Lithuania are nearby.

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev weighed in on the crisis Tuesday, hailing Crimea's vote to join Russia as a happy event. Gorbachev, in remarks carried Tuesday by online newspaper, said Crimea's vote offered residents the freedom of choice and showed that people really wanted to return to Russia.

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