MOSCOW, March 6 (RIA Novosti) – The parliament of Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian region within Ukraine, decided Thursday to secede from the country and become part of Russia, according to a statement on its website.
A popular vote to approve the decision or restore the 1992 Crimean Constitution, whereby the peninsula would remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine, is scheduled for March 16, the statement said.
The ballot, to be printed in the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar languages, will include only those two questions. Neither question would allow voters to indicate a preference for independence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with senior officials in an emergency session of his Security Council to discuss the decision by Crimea’s parliament to secede, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Putin said Tuesday that Russia was not considering annexing Crimea, but that the residents of a region can determine their own future.
Russian lawmaker Sergei Mironov said there was ample time for his country’s parliament to pass legislation that he introduced last week to annex Crimea.
Rallies around the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula following the formation of the new government in Kiev have openly called for secession and annexation by Russia.
Crimean officials have refused to recognize as legitimate the new central government in Kiev, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22.
Thousands of troops apparently under Russian command but lacking official insignia have taken control over Ukrainian military bases across Crimea in the past week.
Russia’s parliament has approved military intervention in Ukraine, but President Vladimir Putin has denied that troops have been deployed and has called the masked soldiers “local militia.”
The referendum was originally scheduled to be held May 25, the same day as Ukraine’s early presidential election.
Updated to include information on Russian Security Council meeting, Mironov’s legislation, edits throughout.