MOSCOW, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Russia said Friday it would respect any choice made by the Crimean people in the upcoming referendum on the autonomous republic's future status.
"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, said in talks with the republic's visiting delegation.
The Crimean parliament on Thursday announced it wanted the region to join Russia and would hold a referendum on the issue on March 16.
Sevastopol, a port city located at the Crimean peninsula's southern tip, shelters the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Naryshkin said Moscow had been well aware of recent acts by Crimean authorities "to secure citizens' rights, freedom and protect human life."
He also said 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.
"We are afraid of the new (Ukrainian) entity, it is not legitimate," the Interfax news agency quoted Crimean Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov as saying.
Earlier this week, a State Duma delegation visited Crimea. Following the trip, it urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to adopt all possible measures to stabilize the situation in the republic, where more than half the population are ethnic Russians.
So far, Russia is the only country to have supported the referendum. U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday the referendum would violate international law. Moscow later accused the United States of applying double standards to Russia's assertions about the developments in Ukraine.
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