Crimean parliament votes to join Russia, referendum likely (Roundup)

Crimea/Brussels/Moscow, March 6: Parliamentarians in the Ukraine’s autnomous region of Crimea Thursday voted to formally become part of the Russian Federation, with the verdict going for a referendum likely.

If the parliament’s request is granted, the decision would be put to the Crimean people for their verdict in a referendum March 16, BBC reported citing the region’s parliament.

The announcement from Crimea’s parliament came as European Union leaders were meeting in Brussels to discuss how to respond to Russian troop deployment on Ukrainian soil.

A minister in Kiev, however, said they believe it would be unconstitutional for Crimea to join Russia.

Crimea, having a mostly ethnic Russian population, has been at the centre of tensions following the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich.

Pro-Russian and Russian forces have been for several days in de facto control of the peninsula, which already enjoys a degree of autonomy from Kiev.

The Crimean parliament resolved “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.

Crimea region, a peninsula on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, has 2.3 million people. Most of them identify themselves as ethnic Russians and speak Russian.

Russia has been the dominant power in Crimea for most of the last 200 years, since it annexed the region in 1783. The region was, however, transferred by Moscow to Ukraine – then part of the Soviet Union – in 1954. Some ethnic Russians see that as a historical wrong.

In 2010, the Crimea region voted heavily for Yanukovych during the presidential election. Many people here today believe that he is the victim of a coup — leading to attempts by separatists in Crimea’s parliament to push for a vote on whether it should leave Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk Thursday called on Russia to pull back its forces and fix the deteriorating political situation in Ukraine.

The Russian side is still provoking clashes and tension, Yatsenyuk told a press conference prior to a European Union (EU) summit to be held later Thursday, which will discuss how to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, Xinhua reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, reaffirmed Russia’s position Wednesday that an EU-brokered agreement signed Feb 21, which foresaw constitutional reform that would take into account the wishes of all Ukraine regions, should be the basis for stabilising the situation.

Together with Yatsenyuk, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said that “we must realize that there is a real, dangerous and dramatic situation and tension”.

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen told the press Thursday that the EU was expected to bring Russia to the negotiation table in a bid to handle the Ukrainian turmoil. He also noted that possible sanctions were ready.

“If the situation gets worse, the EU must be ready to impose targeted measures on Russia to cool down the situation as soon as possible,” he said.

In Moscow, a senior Russian official categorically ruled out any possibility of Ukraine joining NATO.

“This will happen in no circumstances. It is impossible,” Xinhua quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Nebenzya as telling reporters.

He stressed that both Russia and NATO understood very well the consequences of Ukraine becoming a member of the Euro-Atlantic defence alliance.

He said: “I cannot imagine Ukraine’s participation in NATO now nor in the future.”

On Wednesday, Ukrainian lawmakers introduced a bill that would cancel the country’s non-aligned status and allow it to join military alliances. Voting begins on the bill next week.

In Rome, top diplomats of the US, Italy, France, Germany and Britain were scheduled to hold informal talks on Ukraine later Thursday.

According to the Italian foreign ministry, US Secretary of State John Kerry, foreign ministers of Italy, France and Germany and the deputy foreign minister of Britain will be attending the informal talks, Xinhua reported.

The talks will be on the sidelines of the international conference on Libya which is also being held in Rome.

IANS