Kiev/Moscow, March 7 (IANS) Ukrainian parliament Speaker Alexandr Turchynov Friday signed a decree vetoing the Crimean parliament's decision to hold a referendum on joining Russia even as a top Russian legislator said Russia will respect any choice made by the Crimean people.
Under the Constitution of Ukraine as well as the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, any regional referendum is illegal, Xinhua quoted Turchnyov's decree as stating.
The issue could be settled only by a nationwide referendum approved by the country's parliament, it said.
The parliament of the Crimea Thursday voted to become part of Russia. The parliament session has also set a referendum March 16, which would ask the preference of the Crimean people whether to remain a part of Ukraine or to join Russia.
Turchynov, who is also Ukraine's acting president, described the Crimean parliament's move as a "farce" and "crime against the state" and said the Ukrainian parliament has started legal procedures to dismiss Crimean lawmakers.
In Moscow, Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Russian State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said Russia would respect any choice made by the Crimean people in the upcoming referendum.
"We will treat this historic choice of the Crimean population with respect. We will support the free and democratic choice of the population of Crimea and Sevastopol," Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Russian State Duma, or lower house of the parliament, told a visiting Crimean delegation.
The Crimean parliament Thursday voted in favour of joining Russia and the result is expected to come up for referendum among Crimeans March 16.
Sevastopol, a port city located at the Crimean peninsula's southern tip, shelters the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Naryshkin said Moscow was well aware of recent acts by the Crimean authorities to secure citizen rights, freedom and protect human life.
He added that the State Duma had repeatedly called its Ukrainian counterparts to return to constitutional and legal frames, and stop violence and lawlessness against citizens and political rivals.
So far, Russia is the only country to have supported the referendum. US President Barack Obama said Thursday the referendum would violate international law. Moscow later accused the US of applying double standards to Russia's assertions about the developments in Ukraine.
In another important development, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk Friday said Kiev would sign political chapters of an association agreement with the European Union (EU) soon.
"The signing will take place in the shortest possible period, literally within a few weeks," Xinhua quoted Yatsenyuk as saying in a media conference on the results of his recent visit to Brussels.
To help the Ukrainian economy stay afloat, the EU would provide Kiev with financial aid of around $15 billion, Yatsenyuk said.
The 28-member bloc has suggested opening its market unilaterally to some Ukrainian goods, namely crops and food, Yatsenyuk said, adding that such a step could provide $400 million a year to the crisis-hit Ukrainian economy.
The political association and economic integration agreement between Ukraine and the EU should have been signed at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, last November.
Then president Viktor Yanukovych rejected the agreement with the EU and chose a bailout loan package from Russia, which fuelled massive anti-government protests that eventually led to the overthrow of his government.
Meanwhile, Russia Friday criticised NATO for adopting a biased approach to the developments in Ukraine.
"A decision of NATO to suspend meetings in the frames of practical cooperation with Russia demonstrates a biased approach to the analysis of the causes and consequences of the events in Ukraine," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
That decision contradicted common sense, he said, as all projects of the Russia-NATO Council benefited both sides.
Among these projects were countering terrorism, piracy and extremism as well as disaster relief, and Afghanistan and Syria issues, Lukashevich said.