• Thu
  • Nov 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:07pm

Moscow wins landslide referendum in Crimea as West readies sanctions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 6:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:01pm

Crimea’s Moscow-backed leaders declared a 97-percent vote in favour of quitting Ukraine and annexation by Russia in a referendum Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.

As state media in Russia carried a startling reminder of its power to turn the United States to "radioactive ash", President Barack Obama spoke to Vladimir Putin, telling the Russian president that he and his European allies were ready to impose "additional costs" on Moscow for violating Ukraine’s territory.

The Kremlin and the White House issued statements saying Obama and Putin saw diplomatic options to resolve what is the gravest crisis in East-West relations since the cold war.

But Obama said Russian forces must first end "incursions" into its ex-Soviet neighbour while Putin renewed his accusation that the new leadership in Kiev, brought to power by an uprising last month against his elected Ukrainian ally, were failing to protect Russian-speakers from violent Ukrainian nationalists.

Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.
Russian journalist Dmitry Kiselyov

Moscow defended a military takeover of the majority ethnic Russian Crimea by citing a right to protect "peaceful citizens". Ukraine’s interim government has mobilised troops to defend against an invasion of its eastern mainland, where pro-Russian protesters have been involved in deadly clashes in recent days.

Final results of the referendum in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that is home to 2 million people, show that 97 percent of voters have supported leaving Ukraine to join Russia, the head of the referendum election commission said Monday.

Mikhail Malyshev told a televised news conference that the final tally from Sunday’s vote was 96.8 percent in favor of splitting from Ukraine. He also said that the commission has not registered a single complaint about the vote.

Watch: Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Simferopol after vote

The referendum was widely condemned by Western leaders who were planning to discuss economic sanctions to punish Russia on Monday. Ukraine’s new government in Kiev called the referendum a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow.

US and European officials say military action is unlikely over Crimea, which Soviet rulers handed to Ukraine 60 years ago. But the risk of a wider Russian incursion, as Putin probes Western weakness and tries to restore Moscow’s influence over its old Soviet empire, leaves NATO calculating how to help Kiev without triggering what some Ukrainians call "World War Three".

Highlighting the stakes, journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, stood before an image of a mushroom cloud on his weekly TV show to issue a stark warning. He said: "Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash."

On Lenin Square in the centre of the Crimean capital Simferopol, a band struck up even before polls closed as the crowd waved Russian flags. Regional premier Sergei Aksyonov, a businessman nicknamed "Goblin" who took power when Russian forces moved in two weeks ago, thanked Moscow for its support.

The regional assembly is expected to rubber-stamp a plan to transfer allegiance to Russia on Monday before Aksyonov travels to Moscow, although the timing of any final annexation is in doubt. Putin may choose to hold off a formal move as diplomatic bargaining continues over economic and diplomatic sanctions that many EU states fear could hurt them as much as they do Russia.

This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?
Shevkaye Assanova, Crimean Tartar resident 

"Cherish Putin, he is a great, great president!" said Olga Pelikova, 52, as fireworks lit up the night sky and fellow Crimeans said they hoped to share in Russia’s oil-fuelled wealth after two decades of instability and corruption in Ukraine.

But many ethnic Tatars, Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population, boycotted the vote, fearful of a revival of the persecution they suffered for centuries under Moscow’s rule.

"This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?" said Shevkaye Assanova, a Tatar in her 40s. "For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don’t recognise this at all."

A pressing concern for the governments in Kiev and Moscow is the transfer of control of Ukrainian military bases. Many of the bases are surrounded and under control of Russian forces, even though Moscow formally denies it has troops in the territory beyond facilities it leases for its important Black Sea Fleet.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21, Ukraine’s government said.

Crimean leaders have said Ukrainian troops can serve Russia or have safe passage out of the region. But some leaders in Kiev have said they expect their forces to defend their positions.

The White House said in a statement on the call with Putin that Obama "emphasised that Russia’s actions were in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions".

The European Union will raise the stakes on Monday by slapping sanctions on officials. EU diplomats were haggling over a list of people in Crimea and Russia who will be hit with travel bans and asset freezes for actions which "threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

An initial list of 120 to 130 names will be whittled down to "tens or scores" before EU foreign ministers take the final decision in Brussels on Monday, diplomats said. Ministers are also expected to cancel an EU-Russia summit scheduled for June in Sochi, where Putin last month hosted the Winter Olympics.

The EU is working to revive a trade and aid deal with Ukraine which ousted president Viktor Yanukovich rejected in November in favour of cash from Moscow, triggering protests that led to bloodshed in Kiev and his flight to Russia last month.

The risk of Europe becoming locked in a damaging spiral of economic retaliation with Moscow, from which it buys much of its energy, depended on Russia, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said ahead of the EU meeting in Brussels: "I would do anything possible to avoid sanctions, because I believe everybody will suffer if we get into sanctions," he said.

The US administration is also preparing to identify Russians to punish with visa bans and asset freezes that Obama authorised this month. It, too, is likely to act on Monday.

The Kremlin statement again highlighted concerns, largely dismissed by Kiev and its Western allies, that Russian-speakers who make up a sizeable minority of Ukraine’s 46 million people were facing violence and intimidation since Yanukovich fell.

"Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilise the situation and terrorise civilians, including the Russian-speaking population," it said.

Putin suggested European security monitors should be sent to all parts of Ukraine because of the violence, it said.

There were pro-Russian rallies in several Ukrainian cities on Sunday, including one in Kharkiv where protesters burned books at a Ukrainian cultural centre where two pro-Russian activists were shot dead on Friday in a fight with members of Right Sector, a nationalist group that emerged during battles with riot police amidst the pro-European protests in Kiev.

In Donetsk, heart of the industrial east where a Ukrainian nationalist was killed in a clash last week, some welcomed the outcome in Crimea and hoped they too might vote to join Russia.

"This is a total victory. A 100 percent win," said one man who gave his name as Roman. "We here in Donetsk support Crimea. We don’t support the Kiev authorities that are ruling today."

In Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country the mood was sombre. "This isn’t a referendum - it’s a show for the Russians to legitimise taking over," said Kyrylo Sergeev in the capital. Another man in Kiev, Vasyl Olinyk, said: "This could be war, not between Ukraine and Russia but maybe World War Three."

As Ukrainian television channels played patriotic songs over images of tanks rolling in to reinforce the eastern border, where the president says Russia has massed troops ready to invade, the head of the national security council said a Moscow plot, codenamed "Russian Spring", to foment violence and justify invasion was failing to garner significant support.

"The plan has failed," Andriy Paruby said. "Despite all the Kremlin’s technical powers, we have managed to keep control."

The Interior Ministry, possibly responding to reported threats by nationalist militants to attack pipelines carrying Russian gas exports to the EU across Ukraine, said its forces had taken control of the country’s vital pipeline network.

A Western official briefed on security discussions suggested NATO governments were taking the risk of invasion seriously.

"Putin would be mad to invade Ukraine," he said, forecasting a quick victory over Ukraine’s armed forces being followed by a long insurgency and civil war. "He is much better playing it long, fomenting rebellion among the ethnic Russians and waiting until the very weak Ukrainian government collapses.

"However ... Putin may decide to go for the jugular ... He has the means and he may decide to exploit events as they unfold to achieve his long-term strategic end: re-establishment of Russian power in its ’near abroad’."


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This article is now closed to comments

The voice of the people, democracy and freedom to choose. That were the key words used in the protest and by all Western countries to remind everyone, the people decide which way to go.
In first place they called the Ukraine outcasts president to bow to the peoples voice, to step down because the people want him to step down. That this is what democracy demands. To listen to the people even it was only the opposition and no proof that the whole population were behind the opposition. The president, stepped finally down and left the office. Western countries cheered and praised the peoples power and democracy. Ok, now in Crimea the people raised their voice, voted and chose to belong to Russia.
The Western countries however won't accept it and plan sanctions. Well, nice double standards. The peoples voice only counts if it is in the favor of the West. This time the people voted for Putin. Outrageous! They will get punished for that. That is Western style, voice of the people, democracy and freedom to choose. It is only true and valid if it is according to Western values.
And will Taiwan do it?
I am neither for Putin nor against Putin and his Russian Empire. But the Ukraine/Krim story is the best example how full of BS the West are with their double standards and definition of democracy. BTW. The case was the same in the Balkan conflict, only with Russia and the Nato on different sides, were the Kosovo wanted to be separated from Jugoslavia (former Serbia) and the Western NATO countries helped them, they sent troops and war machines and bombed Serbia to the moon.
Obama is just jealous that he is not as powerful and aggressive as Putin.............Putin's a real leader who pushes ahead and does what he says he will do.................Obama is just all pretty words and no action.
The next logical step would be for Mother Russia to move further west to liberate the EU slave states. It will be good for the world.
The US and the west should respect the choice of Crimea people. See how happy they are after knowing the result of referendum. Don't always have double standard : one one hand raising the democracy flag ; and one the other hand do not recognize the result of a democratic referendum. We are looking at the will of the great majority of the voter. Just accept it.
great. so if Taiwan sends troops to Hong Kong and ask the people to vote on whether they would like to have greater autonomous within the PRC or Join Taiwan, the Republic of China, I hope Beijing will respect the results.
Because this is democracy, when soldiers belonging to another government can go into another country to "protect" their people there.
Hong Kong People are also R.O.C. "Chinese" people too, so they will have to move in to "protect" our rights and press freedom from Beijing.
Third error, the United States and the EU should have stuck to the original agreement, even to restore Mr. Yanukovych to the Presidency of Ukraine and wait until new elections in May. There was much better than 50% chance that Ukrainians themselves would have elected a new pro-EU and pro-American president, whereby Ukraine would not have to lose Crimea and would still have joined the EU with minimal delay. The fact of the matter is that Ukraine got itself into this situation due to internal political conflict and strive, though through relentless strong-arming and strong instigation by the West. The EU and US should have been more patient and far-sighted. They should have backed down and cut Ukraine some slack rather than arrogantly pressing Ukraine with ultimatums regarding joining the EU .
Its clear that if the West wants to contain Russia, American or Nato’s control of the Black Sea and the Crimea via this newly installed government, as a proxy perhaps, is definitely a game changer of a move. However, in their prudish haste and uncontrolled zeal to achieve this strategic advantage the West has clumsily created a consummate and unnecessary mess in that part of the world, a mess that will have deep global and long lasting reverberations and consequences which will not necessarily benefit but may well hurt the West.
Jennie PC Chiang/江佩珍
Where EU and US go from here ??
I don’t think that Russia will be deterred by EU or US imposed travel bans and asset freezes on people they blamed for the moves to wrest Crimea from Ukrainian control.
The way President Obama and EU are handling Ukraine crisis will invariably lead to double loses for the West. President Obama’s or EU’s options in Ukraine are limited, not much more than empty verbal warnings. In fact, both the EU and the US need Russia more than Russia needs either EU or US in dealing with international conflicts or other international issues. Again, I am not taking sides and my comments are based on realistic events.
Regarding the EU and U.S handling of Ukrainian crisis:
First mistake, the EU and the US are blindly over-eager to recognize the new leadership in Kiev whom Russia considers to have hijacked their unconstitutional political roles via a violent coup. The question is how legitimate are the new Kiev leaders themselves, included Mr. Yatsenyuk, and by which standards of legitimacy? The EU and the US broke the agreement sponsored by the United States and signed by the European Union, the then President Viktor Yanukovych as well as the opposition.
Second mistake, the United States and the EU have treated Russia as another Iraq or Libya, with threat of economic sanction or other actions. But President Putin who is neither Gorbachev nor drunken Yeltsin cannot be so easily pushed around or manipulated.
Jennie PC Chiang/江佩珍
** Continuing**
There are around 10% of Crimea people who don't want to be in the seperated Crimea. If they group together in certain districts in Crimea, they could be the majority. And if they too want another referendum in that areas then.....
Let's remember that the secession vote was from Crimea, even though Russia forced its way in there to facilitate it.
But, it's what Russia does next that matters.
If it's smart, it would do nothing -- and for a long time.
And if we're smart, we should take no drastic action just yet -- though we should continue to get ready for anything.
The days ahead should give us all a chance to absorb what went on, and to figure out the best course to take.
No direction is obvious; and everybody's been losing thus far -- especially Russia.


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