Crimea looks set to seperate from Ukraine as the U.S. and EU insist the referendum result will not be recognized.
SIMFEROPOL, Crimea - Ninety seven percent of Crimean’s voted in favor of joining Russia in Sunday’s controversial referendum, Crimea’s election officials have said.
The result is seen as the final step before the peninsula secedes from Ukraine and becomes a part of the Russian Federation after the latter said it would agree to annex Crimea.
Western leaders have rebuffed the referendum, saying it breaches international law.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in his call with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the referendum “would never be recognized by the United States and the international community” as it violated the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under the duress of Russian military intervention, according to a statement from the White House.
However, the Kremlin said Putin told Obama the referendum was “fully consistent with the norms of international law and the UN Charter,” calling the current Ukrainian government insufficient in stopping “ultra-nationalist groups.”
EU leaders have communicated that the referendum and a possible annexation of Crimea as a result are unacceptable and have warned of sanctions.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the referendum was a “mockery of proper democratic practice,” saying that his government rejected its result.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU would give a clear and decisive response to the referendum, which he said was a violation of international law, while Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said Ukraine should remain an EU partner.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that the priority for his government was the security of the Crimean Tatars.
Ukraine’s opposition leader Vitali Klitchko, who was at the forefront of three-month mass protests that last month toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, said he expected the EU to impose “the most severe sanctions” it had on Russia since the Cold War.
The Crimean referendum comes amid a fourth-month political crisis that saw Ukraine sway between the European Union and historical ally Russia.
President Yanukovych’s rejection of a trade and association deal with the 28-member bloc for better ties with Russia set off popular protests that led to his ousting and a government change.
Refusing to recognize the new government in Kiev, Russia began asserting its influence over the Crimean peninsula, where it has military and economic interests.
The Crimean parliament last month elected a pro-Russian leader, Sergey Aksyonov, who oversaw the approval of a bill that declared Crimea’s intention to be independent of Ukraine and join Russia.
Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority enjoys overwhelming representation in the parliament.
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