SIMFEROPOL, March 16 (RIA Novosti) - Exit polls showed that some 93 percent of residents of Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea voted on Sunday for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Voters were asked just two questions on the ballot – printed in the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar languages – to secede from Ukraine and request annexation by Russia, or to remain part of Ukraine with expanded autonomy for the region.
Only 7 percent of voters chose to restore the 1992 Crimean Constitution and remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine, said the Crimean institute of political and sociological research, which conducted the exit polls at 150 voting sites in Crimea and 50 sites in Sevastopol, a city with a separate administrative status from the rest of the peninsula.
More than 59,000 voters took part in the exit polls.
According to Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, 85 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum.
Frants Klintsevich, a member of United Russia party and observer at the Crimean referendum, told RIA Novosti that the Russian parliament will consider Crimea's annexation as soon as possible.
"I think all the legal procedures may be completed by the end of March," Klintsevich said.
Sunday’s referendum, widely expected to pass with an overwhelming margin, is at the center of the most serious geopolitical showdown between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Ukrainian and Western leaders have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and unconstitutional, while Moscow insists the Crimeans – a majority of whom identify as ethnic Russians – should be allowed to determine their own destiny.
Western leaders have threatened targeted economic sanctions and visa bans against Russian officials responsible for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine if Crimea secedes and is annexed following the referendum.
The political crisis in Ukraine erupted in November following a step back by President Viktor Yanukovych from closer ties with Europe. Months-long protests in the country's capital Kiev that repeatedly turned deadly eventually led to his ouster by a vote of parliament February 22.
Crimea, along with several other regions in Ukraine, has refused to recognize as legitimate the new leadership in the country.