Crimea Votes for Independence Ahead of Referendum

Crimea Votes for Independence Ahead of Referendum

On Tuesday, Crimea’s parliament voted for independence from Ukraine if the people pass a referendum on March 16 to join the Russian Federation.

With the support of 78 of its 81 members, the chamber passed a “declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea”, saying: “In the case that the referendum on 16 March shows that Crimea should become part of the Russian Federation, then Crimea will become an independent and sovereign state in the form of a republic.”

This contradictory motion suggests that if the referendum goes in favour of joining Russia, then Crimea will have the same status as the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Russia considers both to be independent states, although they are under the de facto control of the Kremlin.

Crimea is an autonomous republic of Ukraine, but over 58% of the residents are ethnic Russians and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. After Ukraine’s parliament ousted Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, Crimea’s parliament dissolved the government and elected pro-Russian officials. Russian forces and pro-Russian protesters have taken over airports, ferry terminals, and military bases.

On March 6, the parliament formally asked to join the Russian Federation. Russia’s parliament introduced legislation to make annexing countries easier and said they would welcome Crimea. However, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said the referendum is illegal and Ukraine will not give up any land to Russia. Yatseniuk and the West told Russia and Crimea they will not recognize the referendum and will take more action against Russia if President Vladimir Putin uses it to justify more aggression.

The US imposed visa restrictions on Russians and Crimeans viewed as a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and stopped all trade and military engagements with Russia. The European Union threatened to freeze assets of 18 people, including Yanukovych, who are accused of embezzling Ukraine funds and stopped talks of visa-free travel with Russia.

Yatseniuk will be in Washington, D.C. to talk with President Obama about the crisis.