Lawmakers in the southern breakaway region have declared independence from Ukraine, saying it's now a separate state that seeks to join Russia, less than a day after voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum ruled illegitimate by the U.S. and European powers
The announcement followed a region-wide referendum, in which residents of the autonomous and contested peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. With about half of the votes counted, roughly 95 percent of Crimeans had voted to split from Ukraine, according to an election official cited by the Associated Press. On Monday, the Crimean parliament announced that it would begin implementing the secession, first by seizing all Ukrainian state property, which it said will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean Republic. On Monday, a delegation of Crimean lawmakers will travel to Moscow to discuss how to proceed with officially joining the Russian Federation.
After Sunday’s vote, President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Crimea’s vote to secede and join Russia “would never be recognized” by the United States, and warned against pushing the Russian military further into southern and eastern Ukraine. Obama told Putin “a diplomatic resolution cannot be achieved while Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory and that the large-scale Russian military exercises on Ukraine’s borders only exacerbate the tension,” according to a statement from the White House.
The U.S. has called for tough economic sanctions against Russia. But some European countries like Germany, which rely on Russia for a significant portion of their energy supply, have been hesitant in recent weeks to commit to firm economic punishments. The U.S and the E.U. are expected to announce sanctions on Monday, while Secretary of State John Kerry continues to speak almost daily with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to find a diplomatic solution.