MOSCOW, March 17 (RIA Novosti) – Thousands of Crimeans celebrated on Sunday night the outcome of a referendum that confirmed overwhelming support for the southern Ukrainian region to join Russia.
With 100 percent of the ballots counted, some 96.7 percent of voters or 1.2 million people in Crimea backed reunion with Russia after 60 years as part of Ukraine.
People cheered the historic vote in the regional capital Simferopol waving Russian flags and singing Soviet-era songs. "We're going home. Crimea is going to Russia," Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov said.
Crimea’s regional assembly, which was dissolved by the Ukrainian parliament Saturday, plans to send a formal request to Moscow to join Russia after a session on Monday.
The Russian parliament is expected announce its decision on Crimea’s fate in the short term, the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Monday.
“The results of the Crimean referendum have clearly shown that Crimeans see their future only as part of Russia. People voted in favor of reunion with the nation that has always lived together with them,” Sergei Neverov said.
Sunday’s referendum is at the center of the most serious geopolitical showdown between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Western and Ukrainian leaders have decried the referendum as illegitimate, noting that masked troops that seized key military sites on the peninsula two weeks ago and widely believed to be under Russian command necessarily undermine the neutrality of the voting process.
The European Union has described the Crimea vote as "illegal and illegitimate” and said it would consider Monday imposing sanctions on Russian officials.
The White House said it would reject the results of the referendum held “under threats of violence and intimidation.”
But with international observers looking on, it appeared by Sunday evening that the referendum process, sure to remain the subject of prolonged controversy, was held without major incident at the over 1,000 polling sites in the largely Russian-ethnic region.
Updates ballot count.