Crimea 'votes' to join Russia as EU leaders meet
MPs in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea region said it should become part of Russia as EU leaders arrived for an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday (6 March).
The decree by the devolved parliament said the territory and its people should “enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation.”
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Its first deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, also told Russian media that a referendum on the move will take place in 10 days’ time, on 16 March, instead of at the end of the month.
He said the two questions will be: “Are you in favour of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation? … [and] Are you in favour of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution? [on semi-autonomy inside Ukraine].”
The vote took place after pro-Russian gunmen occupied the Crimean assembly last week, while the Russian military seized control of tactical assets on the peninsula.
The new authorities in Kiev and the EU ambassador in Ukraine immediately said the Crimea decree is not valid.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, who is currently touring Ukraine, added that the move ignores an ultimatum by EU foreign ministers on Monday by Russia to calm the situation or face EU sanctions. “Crimea vote today in occupied parliament obviously escalates the crisis. EU appeal on Monday for de-escalation steps wasn't heard,” he said on Twitter.
For her part, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, warned that unless the EU reacts strongly, Russian leader Vladimir Putin will target other neighbours in future.
"Russia today is trying to rewrite the borders of Europe after World War II, that is what's going on … After Ukraine, it will be Moldova, and after Moldova it will be other countries,” she told press while arriving at the snap meeting in the EU capital.
Noting that Russia has also held an unannounced military drill in its Western District, simulating an assault on the EU and Nato’s Baltic states and Poland, she added: "This is not only about Ukraine, it is also about the Baltic region.”
Nato has reacted to developments by increasing its “air-police” activity in the Baltic zone and by freezing co-operation with Russia.
But a number of EU leaders indicated the bloc will not impose what it calls “targeted measures” - visa bans and asset freezes on Kremlin officials - at this stage.
Germany’s Angela Merkel said in Brussels on Thursday: "We will … talk about sanctions of different kind and form, whether they will enter into force or not we will decide based on how far diplomatic efforts proceed.”
French President Francois Hollande said the EU must first and foremost lower tensions in Ukraine instead of tackling bigger questions on Russia’s behaviour: “What are we trying to do? We don't want to escalate yet again I don't know what tension. On the contrary, we want to open the door to dialogue.”
Britain’s David Cameron, whose country is a signatory to a 1994 treaty guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity, said he wants the bloc to adopt lower-level sanctions for now, such as freezing EU-Russia talks on visa-free travel or on a new bilateral treaty, while keeping the harsher measures in reserve.
“We’ve got to send a message to Russia that what’s happened is unacceptable and should have consequences and were further action to be taken, that would be even more unacceptable and should have even more consequences,” he said.
His position was echoed by the Belgian, Dutch, Finnish, and Greek leaders.
“It’s not because we consider possible sanctions that we must implement them immediately,” Belgium’s PM, Elio Di Rupo, said.
The Netherland’s Mark Rutte noted: “My position is that we should do everything to give de-escalation a chance. If we come to a conclusion today or the next 24-48-72 hours that de-esclation is not an option then obviously sanctions are back on the table.”
Finland’s Jyrki Katainen indicated: “In the first phase, we can use political and diplomatic sanctions, which the foreign ministers have already talked about [on Monday]. Let’s hope this is enough.”
The Greek leader, Antonis Samaras, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said the bloc should play “a moderating role”.