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Russian lawmakers seek to nullify Soviet transfer of Crimea to Ukraine

Members of Russia's lower house of parliament attend a session to consider constitutional changes in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers have submitted a draft bill to the State Duma that would rewrite a chapter of history by nullifying the Soviet decision in 1954 to transfer Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.

The move appears aimed at establishing a legal basis for Russia to argue that Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which it claims to have annexed from Ukraine in 2014, was never really part of Ukraine to begin with.

The draft, submitted by a lawmaker from each of Russia's two houses of parliament, describes the 1954 handover as arbitrary and illegal because no referendum was held and Soviet authorities had no right to transfer territory from one constituent republic to another without consent.

There was no announcement of when it would be debated by lawmakers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the 1954 handover of Crimea under then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as a violation of legal norms in place at the time.

Crimea residents voted in favour of independence along with the rest of Ukraine in a referendum when the Soviet Union broke up, and Russia and Ukraine subsequently recognised each other's borders. But Moscow seized military control of Crimea in 2014 and annexed it after a referendum that Ukraine and Western governments declared illegal.

Russia used Crimea as a launchpad for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and has since proclaimed its annexation of four other Ukrainian provinces. Ukraine has staged frequent attacks on Russian targets in Crimea and vows to recapture all of its Russian-occupied territory.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Peter Graff)