MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's President Vladimir Putin has approved a draft bill for Crimea's annexation.
The Black Sea peninsula on Monday voted overwhelming to secede from Ukraine and seek to joint Russia.
The decree signed by Putin and posted on the official government website Tuesday morning is one of the steps which would formalize the annexation of Crimea.
The president signed a decree recognizing Crimea as a "sovereign and independent country" hours after the U.S. and the European Union slapped senior Russian officials with sanctions for Russia's intervention into Ukraine.
Russian troops have been occupying the peninsula for more than two weeks now.
Japan has announced a set of sanctions against Russia for its recognition of Crimea as an independent state.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement that Japan does not recognize the outcome of Crimea's referendum to split from Ukraine, saying it violates the Ukrainian constitution.
Japan's sanctions involve suspension of talks on relaxing visa requirements between Japan and Russia as well as planned talks on investment, space and military.
The moves are seen as modest compared to sanctions by the U.S. and European Union, which have frozen the assets of individuals linked to the unrest in Crimea or who support the region's vote to secede from Ukraine.
Kishida also urged Russia to comply with international laws, withdraw the recognition of Crimea's independence and not move further toward its annexation.