SIMFEROPOL, March 14 (RIA Novosti) – Election observers from more than 21 countries, including the United States, are registered to attend a referendum on Sunday in Ukraine’s Crimea on secession and annexation by Russia, the chairman of the election commission said Thursday.
Mikhail Malyshev told reporters that 50 politicians and observers from 21 countries – including the United States, Israel, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece – have been registered to attend the referendum, widely expected to pave the way for the annexation of the region by Moscow.
In Sunday's vote, residents in the majority Russian-speaking Crimea will be given two options: uniting with Russia or remaining in Ukraine with expanded autonomy.
Malyshev said that the first exit poll results will be released on Monday and that ballots have already been distributed to regional election offices.
The Ukrainian parliament earlier said ballots will be provided in the Ukrainian, Russian and Tatar languages.
The election chairman added that more than 1.52 million people are eligible to vote. According to official figures, as of January the total population of Crimea was 1.96 million, including children below the voting age.
That figure does not include residents in the port city of Sevastopol, home to nearly 380,000 people and a major Russian naval base, which has its own election authority.
The parliament of Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on Tuesday, adding in its statement that if the popular vote passes the country will become independent and will immediately request annexation by Moscow.
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.
Authorities in Kiev and international leaders have condemned the upcoming referendum as illegitimate and lashed out at the Kremlin for violating international law in attempting to annex the region.
Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said Monday via his Twitter feed that the referendum is expected to cost some $1.8 million.