Putin Approval Rating Russia Ukraine Crimea
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in SochiReuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval ratings have reached a three-year high following the occupation of Crimea and the Sochi Winter Olympics, according to a Russian poll.

In a survey carried out by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) last week, Putin's approval rating increased to 71.6 percent from 68.8 percent in May 2012 at the beginning of his third term as Russian President.

The Russian President's popularity has risen 9.7 percent since February alone following his handling of the Ukraine crisis, moving in to protect ethnic Russians living in Crimea after the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, and the Sochi Winter Olympics, deemed a success domestically.

Another poll revealed that 53 percent of those surveyed would vote for Putin in presidential elections if they were held this week, in comparison with 48 percent a week ago.

Earlier polls also showed that 71 percent of Russians surveyed believe that Russia should actively protect the interests of ethnic Russians in the Crimean Peninsula, despite international criticism.

The split between young and old revealed a similar attitude towards the Crimea invasion, with young people 68 percent in favour and older candidates 72 percent.

Only 17 percent of those surveyed believe that the crisis sparked by violence in Kiev's Maidan square should not escalate into a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The polls received responses from 1,600 people, drawn from across Russia.

Earlier this week, Yanukovich spoke from his refuge in Russia's southern city of Rostov-on-Don and vowed to come back, claiming he was still in charge of Ukraine and its military.

He blamed post-revolution authorities for the imminent secession of the Crimean peninsula.

The regional parliament has declared independence from Ukraine ahead of a referendum on whether voters want to secede from Kiev and join Russia instead.