Crimea MPs vote to join Russia – and call referendum to let people decide
Crimea referendum to be held on 16 March
A REFERNDUM on the status of Crimea is to be held on 16 March, Russian news agencies have reported, after MPs in the Ukrainian region voted to join Russia.
Crimeans will be asked if the republic should stay a part of Ukraine or join Russia, although a government minister in Kiev has said joining Russia would be unconstitutional.
The region’s First Deputy-Premier Rustam Temirgaliev made the announcement this morning, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency.
The parliament in Crimea voted 78 with eight abstentions in favour of holding the referendum. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with more local powers.
A referendum had been already scheduled in Crimea on 30 March, but the question to be put to voters was on whether their region should enjoy "state autonomy" within Ukraine.
Lawmakers have said there will be two questions on the ballot.
Respondents will be asked: 'Are you in favour of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation?' The second question will be: 'Are you in favour of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution?'
RT has quoted Sergey Shuvainikov, a Crimean MP as saying that Sevastopol residents will take part in the referendum, despite the city enjoying a special status and not officially being a part of Crimea.
"This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev," Mr Shuvainikov said today. "We will decide our future ourselves."
Crimea is currently in the site of escalating tension as Russian troops continue to block access to Ukrainian military facilities. Earlier, Crimea's new leader said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the peninsula in the Black Sea and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.
The region has a majority ethnic Russian population. The area voted strongly for Viktor Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election and has been the site of protests since he was ousted.
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has previously warned of the dangers of separatism. On Wednesday, Ukraine's prime minister told The Associated Press that Crimea would remain part of Ukraine but said the region could be granted more local powers.
There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian central government to the vote.
An emergency summit of EU heads of state will be held in Brussels today, where leaders will try to agree a package of political and economic sanctions against Russia which would take effect if Moscow fails to ease its stranglehold on Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea.
The EU has offered a €15bn (£12bn) aid package to Ukraine. Brussels also announced plans to freeze the assets in European banks of 18 Ukrainian politicians and business leaders who are suspected of stealing billions in state funds.