MOSCOW, March 11 (RIA Novosti) – The parliament of Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian region within Ukraine, declared independence Tuesday ahead of a popular vote on secession and annexation by Russia.
The declaration appeared to be the latest attempt to shore up the legal basis of the upcoming referendum, which is scheduled for Sunday but has been declared unconstitutional by the country’s central leadership in Kiev.
A representative of the regional parliament’s press office said that 78 of 100 deputies voted to declare independence.
The text of the declaration, published on the parliament’s website, claims that the action is in accordance with international law, specifically citing a 2010 ruling by the International Court of Justice that affirmed Kosovo had the right to declare independence from Serbia.
That ruling drew strong reactions from world leaders, with Russian officials insisting that independence for Kosovo threatened to undermine international law.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the Crimean parliament's declaration of independence was “completely legal” and that Russia will fully respect the results of the referendum.
The ministry also said observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were invited to monitor the referendum. The information, however, was dismissed by the OSCE chief later in the day.
Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE Chair Didier Burkhalter “ruled out the possibility of an OSCE observation of the planned referendum as the basic criteria for a decision in a constitutional framework was not met,” the organization said in a statement.
“For any referendum regarding the degree of autonomy or sovereignty of the Crimea to be legitimate, it would need to be based on the Ukrainian constitution and would have to be in line with international law,” OSCE said.
Ukraine’s parliament ordered Crimea on Tuesday to halt the popular vote on secession by Wednesday or the regional parliament would be declared dissolved.
The country's legislature also appealed to the citizens of Crimea not to take part in the vote and said that calls for Russian annexation violated the constitution, which gives only the central government the right to conduct foreign affairs.
A decree calling for the vote to be stopped last week by Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, was ignored by Crimean officials on the technicality that it was not filed in the proper manner.
Officials in Crimea, which hosts a major Russian naval base, have refused to recognize as legitimate the country’s new leadership that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22 following months of street demonstrations protesting his step back from closer ties with Europe.
Troops lacking official insignia but carrying weapons and wearing uniforms used by the Russian military and understood to be under Russian command have taken control of military bases and key infrastructure on the peninsula in recent weeks.
Updates with the OSCE’s statement.