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Crimean Parliament Votes To Join Russia As EU Mulls Action On Ukraine


Pro-Russian volunteers stand guard in front of Crimea's parliament building during a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol on March 6.
Pro-Russian volunteers stand guard in front of Crimea's parliament building during a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol on March 6.
The parliament in Ukraine's Crimea region has voted to join Russia, as EU leaders began discussing a response to the occupation of Crimea by Russian forces.

Crimea's First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev said a referendum on the issue will be held on March 16 -- much earlier than previously announced. The 100-seat parliament voted 78-0, with eight abstentions, in favor of holding the referendum and for joining Russia.

Temirgaliyev said the decision to join Crimea to Russia "takes effect the moment it is made -- that is, beginning today." He said a referendum was needed "for the people of Crimea to confirm this decision made by the parliament."

He also said that Ukrainian armed forces in Crimea will be considered "occupiers" and must surrender or leave.

However, Refat Chubarov, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, said his community will not recognize the results of the referendum.

WATCH: Crimean Tatar leader Refat Chubarov announces referendum boycott.
Crimean Tatar Leader Announces Referendum Boycott
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Speaking in Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the Crimean vote was "illegitimate" and with "no legal grounds at all." He also described Russia's actions as "military aggression" and an "extensive, unacceptable use of Russian military force."

Yatsenyuk also said Ukraine was ready to sign as soon as possible the association pact with the EU whose rejection by pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych sparked the current crisis.

Pro-Russian authorities in Crimea originally said a referendum on the territory’s status would be held on May 25, the same day with the Ukrainian presidential election, then pushed the date forward to March 30.

Ukrainian Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta called the referendum "unconstitutional." Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to have discussed Ukraine, including the Crimean parliament's appeal, at a Security Council meeting on March 6.

WATCH: Speaking outside the parliament, Sergei Tsekov, a lawmaker and chairman of the Russian community of Crimea, said that Crimea has "reunited with our motherland." (Reuters)
Crimean Parliament Votes To Join Russia
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The pro-Russian leadership in Crimea is viewed as illegitimate by Ukraine's new central authorities, who have issued arrest warrants for the territory's pro-Russian prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, and the parliament speaker.

Pro-Russian authorities in Crimea originally said a referendum on the territory's status would be held May 25, then pushed the date forward to March 30. Crimea has a Russian-speaking majority and hosts Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

In related news, Aksyonov said late on March 5 that some 11,000 of what he called "self-defense" troops had been deployed to help control all access points to the Crimean Peninsula.

Earlier this week, Aksyonov said "self-defense units" in Crimea were armed with "shields and sticks" and many had "legally registered" weapons.

Reports have suggested many of the "self-defense" troops are Russian. Russia's government has denied sending extra military forces to Crimea following the collapse of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

A Call For International Monitors

In Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Rubin told a meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington that the fact that monitors have had extreme difficulty in getting access to Crimea is worrisome and that Washington will be pushing for monitors to have access to anywhere in the country.

He also said Washington believes the Ukraine crisis can only be solved if the international community is united in supporting the effort.

Earlier on March 6, a group of 40 unarmed military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was prevented from entering Crimea by two groups of armed men. News agencies quoted diplomatic sources as saying the observers were stopped at a checkpoint set up by pro-Russian militia members.

The observer mission is aimed at defusing tensions on the peninsula, which was taken over by Russian forces over the weekend. The French news agency AFP quoted a diplomat as saying the group was "stuck, but they are not turning back." The source described the armed men as "very professional, very well-trained."

The observers had been on their way by road from Odesa in southern Ukraine. The OSCE mission, which is scheduled to last until March 12, was requested by the new government in Kyiv.

READ MORE: Who Are Russian Forces In Crimea?

European Union leaders, meanwhile, are meeting to discuss further measures in response to Russia's actions in Crimea.

Speaking in Brussels on March 6 ahead of the summit, Yatsenyuk called the situation "not just a Ukrainian-Russia crisis" but a "crisis in Europe." He called on Moscow to sit down for dialogue.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the EU must send a clear message to Russia.

"First, we've got to make sure that we get Russia and Ukraine talking to each other. Second, we've got to demonstrate, here, in the European Union, that we will help the Ukrainian people in their hour of need," Cameron said.

"And third, and just as vital, we need to send a very clear message to the Russian government that what has happened is unacceptable and should have consequences and were further actions to be taken that would be even more unacceptable and would require even more consequences. "

EU Freezes 'Misappropriated' Assets

The summit in Brussels comes after the EU froze assets held in the 28-nation bloc by ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and 17 other officials, including former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

The list also includes the former head of Ukraine's Security Service, a former prosecutor-general, a former interior minister, a former justice minister, and Yanukovych's son Oleksandr. The officials on the list are suspected of embezzling state funds and illegally transferring the funds outside Ukraine.

The freeze applies within the territory of the EU, including its airspace, for the next 12 months.

The European Union on March 5 decided to freeze the assets of 18 Ukrainian citizens responsible for the misappropriation of Ukrainian state funds.

'Tough' U.S.-Russian Talks Go Nowhere

The emergency summit in Brussels comes a day after little progress was reported in talks in Paris involving ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Britain, and France.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described his meeting in Paris with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as "tough" and said the two would meet again on March 6 in Rome.

"We agreed to continue intense discussions in the coming days with Russia, with the Ukrainians in order to see how we can help normalize the situation, stabilize it and overcome the crisis, and those intentions are intentions that are shared exactly as I have described them between Russia, the United States, the European countries and Ukrainians who were here," Kerry said.

"All parties agreed today that it was important to try to resolve these issues through dialogue."

In Paris, Lavrov refused to meet his Ukrainian counterpart. The Kremlin insists the new authorities in Kyiv are not legitimate.

WATCH: Putin unfazed as Ukraine crisis continues.
Putin Unfazed As Ukraine Crisis Continues
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Talks in Paris came amid ongoing tensions in Ukraine's Crimea, where pro-Russian forces are locked in a tense standoff with the Ukrainian military.

Lavrov repeated Moscow's claims that the troops that have seized control of much of the Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command, but rather local "self-defense" forces, a claim largely dismissed in the West.

In an unusually blunt move, the U.S. State Department has all but accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of lying about events in Ukraine. A fact sheet released on March 5 titled "Putin's Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine" says Putin has ignored or distorted facts in "justifying Russian aggression."

The State Department refutes Putin's assertion that "citizens' defense groups," not Russian forces, have seized infrastructure and military facilities in Crimea. It says "strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea."

It also disputes claims of a humanitarian crisis, that Russia's bases and ethnic Russians in the country are under threat, reports of mass attacks on churches and synagogues, and that the Ukrainian parliament is "under the influence of extremists or terrorists."

Russia slammed the fact sheet as a "primitive distortion of reality" and "low-grade propaganda." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich in a statement that the United States did not have "the moral right to lecture [others] about compliance with international norms and respect for other nations' sovereignty."

He added, "It's clear that in Washington, as before, they are unable to accept a situation developing not according to their templates."

Battle For Donetsk

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, pro-Russian protesters retook control of the regional administration building but reportedly vacated voluntarily on March 6 morning. Reuters reports that the Ukrainian flag is again flying over the building.

The headquarters has changed hands several times over the past days, with pro-Moscow demonstrators flying the Russian flag overnight. A Ukrainian police spokeswoman said authorities on March 6 "recommended" that people leave the building and that "everyone left."

Police at the scene said dozens of demonstrators were detained, including local self-styled protest leader Pavel Gubarev, who is on a wanted list issued by the government on March 5.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Donetsk confirmed Gubarev was taken into custody on March 6 at his apartment. Gubarev is being held on charges of calling for the overthrow of the constitutional structure and other violations. Gubarev, a Donetsk businessman, has called himself the "people's governor" and demanded local authorities cut ties with Kyiv.

Donetsk is the home city of deposed President Yanukovych and has seen regular pro-Moscow demonstrations.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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