Crimea formally applies to rejoin Russia

MOSCOW — Crimea's parliament Monday moved to declare independence after residents in the semi-autonomous region there overwhelmingly backed a referendum to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, news agencies in Russia reported.

Crimea's election committee said that 97% of voters backed a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and the huge neighboring country.

Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said on Twitter that the region would move to Russian time starting March 30.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to is expected to speak before both houses of the Russian parliament Tuesday in a special address on Crimea.

Sunday's referendum is not recognized by the West, and the United States and the European Union are preparing sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.

A delegation of Crimean lawmakers is set to travel to Moscow on Monday for negotiations on how to proceed. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is just a matter of time.

But in the Ukrainian capital, anti-government protesters are warning that the ballot may trigger chaos on the southern peninsula.

"There will be conflict for hundreds of years there," said Igor Gowashenko, a member of a civil defense group, talking about Crimea. "I'm sure the Russian army will destroy stability — by taking people's private property," said Gowashenko, in Kiev.

As Russian media welcomed the outcome of the disputed vote Monday, there was further condemnation from much of the international community of the ballot.

The European Union says it is "illegal and illegitimate" and the body's foreign ministers Monday are debating approving economic responses, including travel bans and asset freezes in Brussels.

"The European Union has a special responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity on the European continent and will continue pursuing these objectives using all available channels," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso and EU Council President Herman van Rompuy said in a statement issued Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's defense minister announced Sunday he had agreed to a "truce" with Russia on the disputed peninsula, one that would put on hold a military standoff that has seen Russian soldiers surround Ukraine bases there. The truce is due to expire on March 21, the date when the Moscow Duma is currently slated to consider annexation of the region.

"Personally, I think there will be war," said Oleg Hadimov, who was collecting donations in Kiev for those injured during the city's winter protests against Russian-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych. "The Ukrainian army is not suited (to a fight against Russia). But the people will prevail."

McPhedran reported from Kiev. Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard reported from London; Associated Press


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