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Crimea's parliament voted to request formally today that Russia annex the breakaway Ukrainian region, after its electoral commission announced that nearly all Crimeans were in favor of such a move. But the West remains opposed to annexation of the Ukrainian territory by Russia, and promises consequences for Russia should the Kremlin act to recognize the improbable vote.
Reuters reports that Mikhail Malyshev, the chairman of the regional government commission overseeing the referendum, announced that 96.77 percent of Crimean voters opted in favor of annexation by Russia. The vote, which took place as Russian troops occupy much of the peninsula, is expected to be recognized by the Russian parliament "in the very near future," according to Sergei Neverov, the Russian parliament's deputy speaker.
But the official tally in favor of joining Russia appears dubious on its face. Crimean officials put the total turnout at 83 percent, meaning more than 8 out of every 10 eligible voters on the peninsula opted in favor of annexation. But Crimea's ethnic Russian majority is estimated to number only about 6 out of 10, with the remainder being ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars, both groups which largely opposed annexation.
Even if every Russian voter opted in favor of annexation, majorities of the Ukrainian and Tatar populations would also have had to vote to meet the 83-percent participation figure. And nearly all of those Ukrainian and Tatar voters would have had to have supported annexation for the 96.7-percent in-favor result to be accurate. Given Ukrainian and Tatar resistance to the move, such a result seems unlikely.
Crimea's Tatars largely boycotted the vote in protest, calling it illegal. The Tatars, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, have a particularly negative view of Russia, having been forced out of their homeland in the hundreds of thousands by Soviet premier Joseph Stalin in 1944. They were allowed to return to Crimea only in the 1980s.
At one polling place in a Tatar neighborhood, less than 10 percent of eligible voters cast ballots as of midday yesterday, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Across the street from the dilapidated, Soviet-era building, several Tatar men stood by and watched as a few voters trickled in.
“This referendum is a bad joke,” said Ayder Abibialayev, who abstained from voting. “You can’t hold a referendum in 15 days. This was organized by the Kremlin, and they’re having us vote with a gun to our head.”
The European Union is considering sanctions against Crimean and Russian officials directly involved in the referendum, which the EU said illegally threatens the integrity of Ukraine. Ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers, British Foreign Minister William Hague said that "I am confident we will agree some sanctions – some travel bans, some asset freezes on individuals in Russia," the Guardian reports.
...These are measures we are taking today and for the coming months, but for years to come if Russia does not find some way to de-escalate this – to directly negotiate with Ukraine, to work with other nations – there will be important costs for Russia. There will be a speeding up by the EU to make itself less energy-dependent on Russia."
He predicted: "There will be a real resolve across western nations, including with the US, to take wider trade, financial and economic sanctions if Russia moves into eastern Europe. We have to be very clear that annexation cannot be the way in the 21st century to conduct affairs, as opposed to negotiation and the rule of law."
The US also dismissed the referendum, even before it was completed, as illegal under international law and held under "threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention," reported the Associated Press.
[The White House] said "no decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government" and noted that Russia had rejected the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians there were protected.
"Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border," the White House said.