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Crimea’s parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation.It follows Sunday’s controversial referendum which officials say overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine.

Crimea  jubilation for the  Russia federation
Crimea jubilation for the Russia federation

The government in Kiev has said it will not recognize the results. The US and EU say the vote was illegal and have vowed to impose sanctions on Moscow.

The Crimean peninsula has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February. Moscow says the troops are pro-Russian self-defence forces and not under its direct control.

The crisis follows the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February, following months of street protests and deadly clashes.

Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called the vote “a circus performance” which had been backed up by “21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum”.

The vote was boycotted by many among Crimea’s minority Ukrainians and Tatars – who constitute about a third of the population – and the election process has been widely criticized.

Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said it was a “great farce” which “will never be recognised either by Ukraine or by the civilised world”.

Meanwhile, the parliament in Kiev has formally approved the partial mobilization of 40,000 reservists.

Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said what had taken place in Crimea was “blatant aggression” and that the mobilization would prevent similar action in south-eastern Ukraine, which has seen pro-Moscow rallies in recent weeks.

Clock change

According to the vote in Crimea’s parliament on Monday, Ukrainian laws now no longer apply in the region, and all Ukrainian state property belongs to an independent Crimea.

The document approved by MPs also appealed to “all countries of the world” to recognise Crimean independence.

Crimea’s pro-Russia leader Sergei Aksyonov said he was travelling immediately to Moscow to discuss the next steps.

The peninsula will adopt the Russian currency, the rouble, and clocks will move two hours forward to Moscow time by the end of March.

Russia is now expected to fast-track the legislation enabling it to absorb Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin is to address both houses of parliament on Tuesday.

Tatar boycott

Crimea has been under the control of pro-Russian armed forces since late February.

The referendum was called by the Crimean parliament in early March, with voters asked to choose between joining Russia or having greater autonomy within Ukraine.

There was no option for those who wanted the constitutional arrangements to remain unchanged. Ukraine’s chief electoral official, Mikhail Malyshev, said the vote was nearly 97% in favour of joining the Russian Federation, with a turnout of 83%.

But Crimea’s Tatars – about 12% of the population – expressed fears their lives would be worse under the Kremlin.

The Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944. They were only able to return with the fall of the Soviet Union and many want to remain under Ukrainian rule.

Many ethnic Ukrainians – who make up 24% of Crimea’s population – also said declined to vote.

The EU – which has already suspended talks on an economic pact with Russia and an easing of visa restrictions – is discussing its response.

Speaking in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “so-called referendum” was “illegal under the constitution of Ukraine and under international law”.

“I call upon Russia yet again to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to start a dialogue with them, and to try to move to de-escalation, please, as quickly as possible,” she told reporters.

The EU “can’t simply sit back and say this situation can be allowed to happen”, she added.

The bloc hoped to send “the strongest possible signals to Russia, a signal trying to ensure that they understand the seriousness of the situation”.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss a possible visa ban and an asset freeze against a number of Russian officials.

The White House has described Russia’s actions in Crimea as “dangerous and destabilizing”, and said the international community would not recognise the results of a poll “administered under threats of violence”.

US President Barack Obama has warned Moscow that Washington is also ready to impose “costs” over its actions in Ukraine.

BBC News

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