Crimea’s government, acting as a rubber stamp for Vladimir Putin’s Moscow government, has voted to leave the Ukraine and become part of Mother Russia, pushing the date forward for a referendum to ratify the decision. The new date is March 16; the first time such a referendum was discussed, the date was May 25. May 25 is the day Kiev’s new government will pick Ukraine’s next president. Crimea’s parliament later moved the date up to March 30, then on Thursday moved it to March 16. Because of the new date, the vote could take place while Crimea is occupied by Russian troops. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said, “This is an illegitimate decision. Crimea was, is, and will be an integral part of Ukraine.”
Sergei Tsekov, a legislator from Crimea’s Russia Unity party, said the referendum was passed in a closed session, protesting, “There was no need for observers because we’re all honest people in there.”
If Crimea joins Russia, it would be the first time since World War II that a national government in Europe would have a part of its territory taken against its will. On Thursday, U.S. and European leaders said that the referendum for Crimea to join Russia would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said, “These last days have seen perhaps the most serious challenge to security on our continent since the Balkan wars.’
According to the White House, Barack Obama spoke directly with Putin on Thursday. He supposedly reminded Putin that Russia was violating Ukrainian sovereignty, and told Putin he wanted Russian forces to return home. Obama also pleaded for there to be new elections in May. Obama said at the White House, “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine, In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”
But Putin has argued that Russia was simply responding to cries for help from Crimeans. He said that Ukraine’s new government came to power unconstitutionally, and had forced “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions. Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law.”
The White House stated that Putin was responsible for the Crimean referendum. One senior official bleated, “It’s impossible to see how they’re not encouraging this.”
Responding to the crisis, Obama signed an executive order establishing a legal foundation for punitive sanctions against whomever was responsible for the crisis. The GOP-led House, joined the White House by voting to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine.
European leaders were typically ineffectual, claiming they would impose travel bans and asset freezes on senior Russian officials if Russia doesn’t talk to Ukraine and back off.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said the Crimean referendum was “a farce and a crime against the state, organized by Russia.” He added that Ukraine would start dissolving the regional legislature in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol. But the Crimean government doesn’t hew the line for Ukraine any more.
Meanwhile, back in Moscow, the Russian parliament also was quickly preparing a draft law that would allow Russia to annex new territories,
The European Union is preparing a $15 billion package in aid to Ukraine, which is experiencing financial difficulties.