Crimean parliament votes to join Russia

The parliament of Ukraine’s southern region, Crimea, has voted unanimously in favor of joining Russia and declare Crimea to be part of Russia. The vote coincided with an announcement that a referendum on Crimea's status was being brought forward to March 16. The question to be put to voters will be whether their region should enjoy autonomy within Ukraine or join Russia.

The MPs said on Thursday morning that a referendum planned for 30 March, which was due to ask voters if they wanted more autonomy from Kiev, would now take place on 16 March. The referendum would only be a ratification of a decision that had already been taken.

The referendum

The referendum on the region's status is being brought forward from March 30 to March 16. Crimea's deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said there would be only two questions on the ballot, whether Crimea should be part of Russia or of Ukraine.

There is, however, some doubt about the legitimacy of the Referendum. The prime minister came to power, arguably at gunpoint, when the parliament was taken over. The Ukrainian constitution also says parliament cannot take such a decision on its own, but needs to have approval from Kyiv and a Kyiv court has already ruled that the Crimean Parliament’s actions are broadly illegal. Also, Russia has to formally accept the decree.

The fast-moving developments came a day after face-to-face diplomatic meeting in Paris between representatives of Russia and the new leadership in Ukraine.

International reactions

Dmitri Peskov, a senior spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Russia had been informed of the developments in Crimea but had no further comment. Ukrainian acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, urged Russia to “pull back its military into barracks, not to support the so called government of Crimea”

US president, Barack Obama, said that the actions of Russia in the Ukraine are "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States", and authorized sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for undermining democratic process in Ukraine.

Europe’s foreign affairs ministers are together in an informal EU summit to discuss the Crimean cricis. Diplomats, however, said that at most, the EU would condemn Russia's seizure of Crimea and suspend talks with Moscow on visa liberalization and economic cooperation. The declaration of the Crimean parliament will increase tensions over Crimea.

Sources: Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the New York Times, Reuters, Russia Today

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