Crimea to join Russia after referendum

Following a referendum on Sunday 16 March, Crimea declared itself an independent state on Monday 17 March. The newly formed Republic of Crimea formally applied to join the Russian Federation the same day. The West claims the referendum to be illegal and says it will impose new sanctions.

In the Sunday 16 March referendum, 96.8 percent opted to join Russia. The head of the Crimean parliament’s commission on the referendum, Mikhail Malyshev, said the referendum saw a massive turnout of 81.3 percent. He added that the referendum commission had not received any complaints. The Supreme Council of Crimea unanimously voted to integrate the region into Russia.

Crimea’s Prime Minister, Sergey Aksyonov, said Crimea will introduce the Russian Ruble as official currency next week. Aksyonov announced the integration into Russia should take about a year. The Crimean parliament will remain the supreme legislative body of the peninsula, until a decision is made to integrate Crimea into the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, Aksyonov said Crimea wants to maintain relations with “economic entities, including Ukraine”, rather than burn bridges.

There was no option for those who wanted the constitutional arrangements to remain unchanged. Crimea’s Tartars, about 12 percent of Crimea’s population, oppose Russian rule. Many ethnic Ukrainians (12 percent) also fear Crimean independence. Both groups boycotted the referendum.

Fears in Ukraine

The Ukrainian government in Kyiv said it does not recognize the referendum results. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Aseniy Yatsenyuk, has called the vote a circus performance backed up by “21.000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum”. Ukraine’s interim government has endorsed a presidential decree on partial mobilization of 40.000 reservists. The secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Andrei Parody, announced 20.000 reservists would be deployed in the armed forces to protect Ukraine against Russian aggression.

The Ukrainian government also accuses Russia of deliberately stirring up tensions in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv. Crimea’s deputy prime minister predicted that eastern Ukraine would be next to join Russia, “Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv have the same situation as in Crimea – 75% of people want to join Russia in eastern Ukraine".   

International responses

The Sunday referendum was duped highly controversial in the West. The United States and the European Union do not recognize the results and say the referendum was illegal. The EU and US announced it will impose travel bans and asset freezes on 21 leading figures in Russia and Ukraine following the referendum on Monday 17 February.

EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the EU “can’t simply sit back and say this situation can be allowed to happen”. She called on Russia to start a dialogue with Kyiv to “try to move to de-escalation as quickly as possible”. In a joint statement, the Presidents of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission, José Manuel Barrosso, said “The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognised".

United States President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a phone call, that the US would never recognize Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Obama warned Putin against making further moves on southern and eastern Ukraine. Obama told Putin “A diplomatic resolution cannot be achieved while Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory and that the large-scale Russian military exercises on Ukraine's borders only exacerbate the tension”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, insists the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination. Valery Ryazabtsev, head of Russia’s observer mission to Crimea said there were “absolutely no reasons to consider the vote results illegitimate". President Putin is scheduled to address both houses of the Russian parliament on Tuesday 18 March.

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC I, BBC II, The Guardian, Reuters, Russia Today.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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