US imposes visa bans, EU issues blockade threat
THE Crimean parliament has voted to join Russia, dramatically escalating tensions as Russian forces tightened their grip on the ground.
Deepening the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, MPs in the majority ethnic-Russian peninsula agreed to put the question of secession from Ukraine to a referendum on March 16.
The motion, passed by 78 out of 86 MPs, was immediately condemned by Ukrainian authorities and Western powers as illegitimate and in breach of Ukraine's constitution. Washington responded quickly, mobilising its military assets in the region and placing visa bans on Ukrainian and Russian officials it deemed responsible for destabilising Crimea.
The European Union committed to a "three-step approach" with the immediate suspension of trade and visa liberalisation talks with Russia and a boycott of a G8 summit due to be held in Sochi in June.
Unless Russia agrees to talk to Ukraine via a contact group of mediators, or to allow international observers into the Crimea over the next week, the EU will follow the US by hitting Russian officials with sanctions.
"Such negotiations need to start within the next few days and produce results within a limited time frame," said the summit statement.
Threatened sanctions include travel bans, asset freezes and an economic blocade if Russian president Vladimir Putin supports Crimea's bid to join Russia. (©Daily Telegraph, London)