A woman holds a flag depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev during a rally in Sevastopol on March 17, 2014. (AFP PHOTO AFP PHOTO/ VIKTOR DRACHEV)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Monday recognizing Crimea as a "sovereign and independent country," hours after the strategic Black Sea peninsula declared it had broken from Ukraine following a weekend referendum.Ukraine's turmoil has become Europe's most severe security crisis in years and tensions have been high since Russian troops seized control of Crimea, which has now decided to merge with Russia.The U.S., EU and Ukraine's new government do not recognize the referendum held Sunday in Crimea, which was called hastily as Ukraine's political crisis deepened with the ouster of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych following months of protests and sporadic bloodshed.The EU's foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine following Crimea's referendum.Moscow, meanwhile, called on Ukraine to become a federal state as a way of resolving the polarization between Ukraine's western regions -- which favor closer ties with the 28-nation EU -- and its eastern areas, which have long ties to Russia.
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