Crimea declared independence yesterday and applied to join Russia, while the Kremlin braced for sanctions after the flashpoint peninsula voted to leave Ukraine in a ballot that will likely fan the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War.
Official results from Sunday’s poll showed that 96.77 percent of the voters in the mostly Russian-speaking region opted to switch to Kremlin rule, in what would be the most radical redrawing of the European map since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
Crimea’s Kremlin-backed lawmakers also declared the ruble the peninsula’s second official currency and vowed to “disband” the Ukrainian military units stationed across the region — a move that threatens to further escalate the security crisis raging on the EU’s eastern frontier.
Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov denounced the vote as a “great farce” and lawmakers approved a partial mobilization of the Ukrainia’s army aimed at countering Russian troops’ effective seizure of Crimea.
Most of the international community has rejected the referendum as illegal because Russia had vowed to respect its neighbor’s territorial integrity under a milestone 1994 agreement that saw Ukraine renounce its Soviet-era nuclear arms.
However, the government in Crimea announced a series of measures to sever the ties with Kiev.
The White House said US President Barack Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington and its allies would “never” recognize Crimea’s breakaway vote.
Obama warned that “Russia’s actions were in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions,” the White House said.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton also said the EU needed to send the “strongest possible signals” to Russia at a meeting of the 28-nation bloc’s foreign ministers yesterday.
The ministers are widely expected to approve “targeted” sanctions against Russian or pro-Kremlin Ukrainian leaders that could include travel restrictions and asset freezes.
Putin has signaled no intention to turn back on what he describes as his defense of ethnic Russians who he says have come under increasing attack from Ukrainian ultranationalists since last month’s ouster in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime by a far more nationalist, but Western-leaning team.
The Kremlin said Putin “emphasized” to Obama that the referendum “was fully in line with the norms of international law and the UN charter.”
It added that Putin said that “the well-known precedent of Kosovo” — a mostly Muslim region of former Soviet ally Yugoslavia whose independence is backed by Washington, but not recognized by the Kremlin.
Putin is to make a special address on the crisis today that will be attended by lawmakers from Russia’s two houses of parliament.
Crimea’s self-declared leader Sergiy Aksyonov tweeted yesterday that he was flying to Moscow for talks.
Russia’s lower house of parliament is expected to debate legislation on Friday simplifying the process under which the Kremlin can annex another part of a sovereign state.
Some ethnic Ukranians expressed bewilderment at a referendum that presented them with only two choices: to join Russia or go back to a 1992 constitution under which Crimea became a de facto sovereign state.