Crimea declared independence from Ukraine and applied to rejoin Russia, hours after its residents overwhelmingly supported the historic passage in a referendum on Sunday.
Nearly 97 per cent of voters said “yes” to revert to Russia, from which Crimea had been separated when the Soviet Union broke up just over 20 years ago. A mere 2.5 per cent voted in favour of staying with Ukraine.
The turnout was a record-breaking 83 per cent of Crimea’s 1.5 million eligible voters. With ethnic Russians constituting 58 per cent of the region’s population, the vote results indicate that many ethnic Ukrainians, who account for nearly a quarter of Crimeans, voted for reunification with Russia. The Medjlis of Crimean Tatars said 95 per cent of its followers boycotted the vote. Crimean Tatars, who make up about 12 per cent of Crimea’s population, still smart from painful memories of their deportation by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin during World War Two.
Crimea’s Parliament on Monday adopted a declaration of independence and a formal request to accede to Russia. Later on Monday a delegation of Crimean lawmakers left for Moscow to fast track the accession process.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will address a joint session of the Russian Parliament on Tuesday in connection with the Crimean referendum. The process of Crimea’s accession may take two to three months, according to experts. Crimean authorities said the region will begin replacing Ukrainian hryvnia with the Russian rouble within the next two weeks.
The Russian government has promised to raise the salaries and pensions for Crimean residents to the average Russian level, which is two to three times higher.
Moscow has also announced plans to expand its naval presence in Crimea, where it has been leasing a base for its Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine.
“The Black Sea Fleet will be rebuilt and modernised in an intensive way to prepare it for the new strategic tasks in its zone of responsibility,” a spokesman for the Russian Navy told the Interfax news agency on Monday.
Russia’s earlier plans to upgrade and beef up its Black Sea Fleet had been stymied by Ukraine.
U.S. President Barack Obama placed a phone call to Mr Putin late on Sunday to warn him that the U.S. and “international community” will never recognise the results of the referendum that “violates the Ukrainian Constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention.”
“In coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions,” the White House quoted Mr Obama as saying.
Mr Putin told Mr Obama that the referendum in Crimea was “fully consistent with the norms of international law and the U.N. Charter” and was in line with the “Kosovo precedent,” the Kremlin said.
The U.S. and the European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Moscow’s intervention in Crimea. Washington ordered a travel ban and asset freezes on 11 officials, including Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and Speaker of the Russian Parliament’s upper house Valentina Matvienko and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The E.U. sanctions list includes 21 names.
More penalties will follow when the E.U. leaders meet for a summit in Brussels in a few days, Lithuania's foreign minister.
Meanwhile, Russians overwhelmingly support Crimea’s reunification with Russia. A poll conducted last week 86 per cent of respondents said that they considered Crimea as a part of Russia.