MOSCOW, March 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s upper house of parliament said Friday it would welcome the addition of Crimea to the country's territory if residents there choose to secede from Ukraine in a referendum scheduled next week.
Officials in the Crimean parliament – the Supreme Council – and the city council of Sevastopol voted Thursday for the majority ethnic Russian region to become part of Russia, amid increasing fears that Moscow was seeking to annex the Ukrainian territory. The votes by Crimean authorities, however, are not legally binding and have little immediate effect.
“We [the Supreme Council] have made a decision on entry into the Russian Federation. Now the ball is in your court, you must decide the fate of Crimea – I hope, forever,” said Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of Crimea’s Supreme Council, at a meeting of the region's officials with the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament Sergei Naryshkin.
The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said Russia would support the addition of Crimea to its territory.
“If the people of Crimea make the decision in the referendum to join Russia, we, as the upper house, will of course support such a decision,” Matviyenko said Friday.
The public referendum on the issue, scheduled for March 16, has been dismissed as a “farce” and “a crime against the state” by the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, who said Thursday that the Ukrainian parliament would move to dissolve the Crimean one.
The referendum will offer voters two choices: to either approve the secession or for the primarily Russian-speaking peninsula to remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
Votes by Crimean authorities on secession Thursday, though legally toothless, outraged the Ukrainian government and the West, escalating an ongoing political crisis in the region after thousands of troops – apparently under Russian command, but lacking official insignia – took control of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea in the past week.
US President Barack Obama denounced the move as illegal under the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and ordered financial and visa sanctions for those responsible for the vote, which he said threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
US allies in the European Union swiftly followed with a further round of visa sanctions and asset-freezing, threatening further measures if the crisis could not be defused.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a phone call with Obama on Thursday night that Ukraine’s current government, brought to power by a revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month, was illegitimate.
He said that “Russia cannot ignore [Crimea’s] appeals for help in this regard,” but that it would act in full compliance with international law.