Ukraine Crisis: Crimea Votes to Join Russia as EU Holds Summit

Crimean lawmakers have voted Thursday in favor of the Ukrainian region becoming part of Russia, and its pro-Moscow government has scheduled a referendum on March 16.

Supporters of the pro-Russian policy in Crimean city Sevastopol are holding a poster that says “Sevastopol is a Russian city.” Photo: Valya Egorshin/ Flickr

On Thursday, Rustam Temirgaliyev, First Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea, announced that the Supreme Council of the Crimea during its session made a fundamental decision for the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea to join Russia as a federal subject. It was agreed “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation,” said the decision.

The government of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula with a majority Russian population, said it is scheduling a referendum on whether to join Russia for March 16. On Wednesday evening, the new leader of the Crimea region, Sergei Aksyonov, said pro-Russian forces had control of all of the peninsula and had blockaded all Ukrainian military bases yet to surrender.

Rustam Temirgaliyev said Crimea was Russian with immediate effect: “From today, as Crimea is part of the Russian Federation, the only legal forces here are troops of the Russian Federation, and any troops of the third country will be considered to be armed groups with all the associated consequences.”

The pro-West, interim administration in Kiev – brought to power on the back of three months of protests that claimed nearly 100 lives – immediately took steps to disband Crimea’s parliament. Ukraine’s prime minister said the Crimean lawmakers’ decision is illegitimate, and a European Union official warned that results of any referendum will not be recognized by the West.

Crimea, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet and has a Russian-speaking majority, had belonged to Russia since the late 18th century until then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. The move was less significant at the time, as both Russia and Ukraine were republics in the Soviet Union.

The 28-nation EU found Russian actions in Crimea as illegal, and voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity but took only minor steps suspending talks with Moscow on visas and a new investment pact while warning of tougher steps if there is no negotiated solution within a short period.

Earlier, the assets held in Europe by 18 Ukrainians, including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, former premier Mykola Azarov and 16 former ministers, were frozen by European Union.

“There will be the strongest possible pressure on Russia to begin lowering the tension and in the pressure there is, of course, eventual recourse to sanctions,” said French President Francois Hollande.

President Back Obama, speaking from the White House, announced immediate first steps to punish Russians and Ukrainians involved in what he called “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, ordering to impose visa restrictions and financial sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians for the moves Moscow already has made into Crimea.

As Reuters says, the crisis began in November when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, under Russian pressure, turned his back on a trade deal with the EU and accepted a $15 billion bailout from Moscow. That prompted three months of street protests leading to the overthrow of Yanukovich on February 22. Moscow denounced the events as an illegitimate coup and refused to recognize the new Ukrainian authorities.

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