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    Putin Defies West, Declares Crimea Independent

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing Ukraine's Crimean peninsula as "a sovereign and independent country."

    Mr. Putin signed the decree Monday, defying Europe and the United States just hours after Washington and Brussels imposed their first sanctions on Russian officials for backing Crimea's secession vote on Sunday.
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    Crimean officials said the final ballot count showed 97 percent of voters favoring independence from Ukraine.

    Senior White House officials told reporters they have "concrete evidence" that some ballots in the referendum were pre-marked when they arrived in cities before the vote.

    The Obama administration, the European Union and a host of legal analysts have repeatedly said the Crimean referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law.



    U.S. President Barack Obama Monday declared a freeze on the assets of seven Russian officials and four Ukrainians who have supported Crimea's separation from Ukraine. He pledged "unwavering" support for Ukraine and said more sanctions on Russia are possible.



    "We'll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world. The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia's diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy."



    A White House official told reporters the Russian officials targeted for sanctions are "cronies" of President Putin. Mr. Putin himself was not the subject of any punitive measures.

    Mr. Obama said Vice President Joe Biden is heading for Europe to discuss the situation with NATO leaders. The president himself is slated to to go Europe next week.

    Earlier Monday, the European Union designated 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine for travel bans and trade sanctions.

    In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday voiced "deep disappointment" with Sunday's secession vote. A spokesman said Mr. Ban, who has sought to resolve the crisis, fears the vote will further heighten tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.

    In Kyiv Sunday, Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote "a circus spectacle" directed at gunpoint by Russia.

    ((optional Obama bites -- found in Dalet 5.1 House Shared Monday -- "Obama Ukraine Acts"

    OBAMA UKRAINE 1

    "The referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law, and it will not be recognized by the international community."

    OBAMA UKRAINE 2
    "We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals responsible for undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and government of Ukraine. We're making it clear there are consequences for their actions."

    OBAMA UKRAINE 3
    "We'll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world. The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia's diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy."

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