|Pro-Russian Crimeans wave Russian flags as they gather to celebrate in Simferopol’s Lenin Square on Sunday. (AFP)
Simperofol, March 17: In the face of stern international criticism a day after a disputed referendum, the parliament of the breakaway republic of Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine today, formally asked Russia to annex it and moved swiftly to cement its rupture with the authorities in Kiev.
Officials in Simferopol, the regional capital, jubilantly announced that almost 97 per cent of voters on Sunday had supported secession.
Hours later, in the first western response, the Barack Obama administration and foreign ministers from the 28-nation European Union announced that they had imposed travel bans and asset freezes on people they blamed for the moves to wrest Crimea from Ukrainian control.
The European ministers did not immediately identify the 21 names on their list, which is most likely the first stage in an escalating schedule of sanctions. But an executive order signed by US President Obama targeted several named officials in Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle, and the White House threatened to go after more if Russia did not back down.
Diplomats said the European measures would affect 10 persons in Russia, eight Crimeans and three Russian military officers connected to the Black Sea Fleet, which is based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. The tally fell short of a more expansive list supported by the US and more hawkish European nations but nonetheless marks the first time that the European Union has adopted economic sanctions against Russia.
Moscow has embraced the result of the voting Sunday, but Putin has not formally declared his intent to annex the strategic territory. The Russian leader was scheduled to make a speech on developments in the region tomorrow.
Today, the Russian foreign ministry published a lengthy statement outlining its proposals for resolving Ukraine’s political crisis, saying that foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov had presented the plans to his counterparts in Europe and the US a week earlier.
The proposals — including the recognition of Crimea’s right “to determine its own destiny” — contradicted many American, European and Ukrainian positions, making it unlikely that Russia would win broad diplomatic support even though it endorsed the creation of a “contact group” of diplomats to mediate.
The ministry called for a return to the agreement of February 21 arranged by three European foreign ministers, although it has been overtaken by events. It called for a national assembly to draft a new constitution creating a federal system of government that would shift significant power to the regions “reflecting the cultural and historical specificity of each of them.” The document also urged that Russian be made a second official language.
In Simferopol, the Crimean capital, celebrations continued today and officials declared it a day off from work. Legislators, however, were moving assertively to set the break from Ukraine in motion, announcing that the authorities in the Ukrainian capital had no power in Crimea.
The legislators adopted a resolution declaring that the laws of Ukraine no longer applied to Crimea and that state funds and all other state property of Ukraine in Crimea had been transferred to their new entity.
The Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was renamed the State Council of the Republic of Crimea, and legislators formally appealed to Russia to accept Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.