Russian and Crimean politicians discussed Crimea’s desire to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said if Crimea votes to join, they would be more than welcome to be part of Russia.
“If the decision is made (by referendum), then (Crimea) will become an absolutely equal subject of the Russian Federation,” said Matvienko. She emphasized the grievances of Russian-speaking residents in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, which have been the Russian government’s primary justification for possible intervention in its neighbor.
On Thursday, the Crimean parliament formally asked to join Russia. If Russian President Vladimir Putin accepts the proposal, the referendum will be held on March 16. The Crimeans will be asked two simple questions.
Are you in favor of reuniting Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?
Are you in favor of retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?
Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, is home to over 58% ethnic Russians and the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Their parliament dissolved the government after the parliament in Kiev elected a new cabinet and set the presidential election for May 25.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said the move by Crimea is unconstitutional. President Obama told the US press on Thursday he rejected the referendum as well.
Putin said there are no plans on annexing Crimea to Russia. He did say the citizens had a right to choose Crimea’s status. However, parliament rushed to push through legislation that would simplify the process.
According to current constitutional law, Russia can only annex foreign territory by an agreement “initiated… by the given foreign government.” Because Crimea is still legally Ukrainian territory, that would entail signing an agreement with new authorities in Kiev, who have condemned Russian moves in the region.
New legislation would sidestep that requirement, according to members of parliament, who said a new bill could be passed as soon as next week.
Crimea made it known they wanted to join Russia as soon as Ukraine’s new government ousted president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22. They declared allegiance to Russia, kicked out Kiev-appointed officials, and elected pro-Russian officials. On February 28, the Just Russia Party’s second-in-command, Mikhail Yemelyanov, introduced a bill in the Duma that would make it easier for Russia to annex territories that vote to join the nation.