* Upper house support now needed for ratification
* Russia issues passports in Crimea, will plug deficit
* Foreign Minister Lavrov blames West for crisis
(Releads with vote, adds quotes)
By Maria Tsvetkova and Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, March 20 Russia's lower house of
parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a treaty to annex
Crimea from Ukraine, leaving just one legal obstacle for the
Black Sea peninsula to cross before it is formally absorbed by
Only one deputy in the State Duma voted against the treaty,
and the Federation Council upper house is expected to complete
ratification on Friday, signed by President Vladimir Putin and
Crimean leaders on Tuesday.
The State Duma chamber stood for the national anthem after
the vote, approved by 443 deputies in an almost full chamber .
"From now on, and forever, the Republic of Crimea and
Sevastopol will be in the Russian Federation," pro-Kremlin
lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said in an address before the vote.
The Crimean port city of Sevastopol is home to the Russian
Black Sea Fleet. Russian forces are now in control of the
peninsula, which has an ethnic Russian majority and voted for
union with Russia on Sunday.
Approval of the treaty in the rubber-stamp parliament had
never been in doubt once it was signed by Putin.
"I am certain the passage of these documents will be a
turning point in the fate of the multi-ethnic peoples of Crimea
and Russia, who are linked by the close ties of historical
solidarity," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Duma after
presenting the treaty to the chamber.
Describing annexation of Crimea as needed to protect ethnic
Russians there, he said: "To this day, lawlessness continues,
and there are daily actions by nationalists, anti-Semites and
other extremists on whom the new (Ukrainian) authorities
He added: "The unification of these peoples in one state
will promote the well-being and prosperity and serve the
interests of Russia."
Russia's moves to annex Crimea have turned a confrontation
with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in
East-West relations since the Cold War.
Earlier on Thursday, Lavrov blamed the crisis on the West,
without specifically mentioning the United States.
He said Western nations were trying to "preserve their
global leadership and display their exceptionalism rather than
striving to be guided by international law".
"The events in Ukraine are a reflection of these
approaches," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow would continue to
use "political, diplomatic and legal methods" to protect
"We will insist that countries in which our compatriots have
found themselves fully respect their rights and freedoms," he
said. Russia accuses the new pro-Western authorities in Kiev of
endangering Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.
SWIFT MOVES ON INTEGRATION
The annexation treaty goes into force once ratified and
stipulates that Crimea will be fully integrated into Russia
after a transition period ending on Jan. 1.
Russia has begun issuing Russian passports to Crimeans,
Interfax quoted Russia's immigration agency chief, Konstantin
Romodanovsky, as saying.
Crimean voters overwhelmingly backed joining Russia in a
referendum on Sunday but the West says the vote was illegal.
The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on
officials and lawmakers accused of involvement in the
annexation, partially suspended military and trade ties, and
threatened more punitive measures.
Russian officials are moving swiftly to integrate the region
and bolster an economy that has been dependent on Kiev for 85
percent of its electricity, 90 percent of its drinking water and
some of its food supplies.
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said Russia will cover
Crimea's estimated 55 billion rouble ($1.53 billion) budget
deficit with funds from the federal budget.
Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia would also
ensure Crimea has a constant power supply by providing back-up
sources and controlling fuel reserves.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Denis Pinchuk,
Editing by Timothy Heritage)