Crimea’s pro-Russian parliament has voted to have the tense Ukrainian region secede and join Russia, triggering fury in Kiev while the EU warned of harsh sanctions on Moscow if it kept refusing the path of dialogue.
A decision by Crimea’s local legislative assembly to call a March 16 “referendum” in the tense peninsula on joining the Russian Federation was dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine’s interim government, the European Union and the United States.
However, with Russian forces in effective control of Crimea – which is home to an ethnic Russian majority – the secession move ratcheted up the stakes in a crisis that is already Europe’s worst security emergency in the post-Cold War era.
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.
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said the Crimea legislators’ decision was a “crime” inspired by the Kremlin.
US President Barack Obama warned the proposed referendum in Crimea would violate Ukranian sovereignty and international law.
He said the US and its allies were united against Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, but said a diplomatic solution to the standoff remained possible.
The US slapped visa bans on Russians and Ukrainians it held responsible for destabilising both Ukraine and security across Europe as a whole.
EU leaders holding a summit in Brussels also took political measures – but not economic sanctions – against Russia over its use of force in its western neighbour following the February 22 ouster of Kiev’s pro-Moscow leadership.
Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk made an impassioned appeal in Brussels for EU states and the US to rise to his nation’s defence in the face of what he called an unfolding Russian aggression.
“We still believe we can solve in peaceful manner but in case of further escalation and military intervention into Ukraine territory by foreign forces, Ukranian government and military will act in accordance with the constitution and laws. We are ready to protect our country,” he said.
Yatsenyuk conceded that Ukraine’s forces were dwarfed by the Russian army but stressed that his country’s troops had the “spirit” to defend themselves in the face of a Russian threat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin for his part on Thursday chaired an unscheduled meeting of his national Security Council to discuss the latest developments but issued no further comment.
European leaders reiterated a commitment to sign an association accord with Ukraine before it holds snap presidential polls on May 25, and also adopted a statement demanding that Russia enter into negotiations in the next few days.
“In the absence of such results the European Union will decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit” in June, the statement said.