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EU, U.S. Weigh Russia Sanctions After Crimea Votes To Secede


A Crimean man makes the "victory" sign as he celebrates on Simferopol's Lenin Square after polling stations closed in the Ukrainian republic on March 16.
A Crimean man makes the "victory" sign as he celebrates on Simferopol's Lenin Square after polling stations closed in the Ukrainian republic on March 16.
The United States and European Union could announce sanctions against Russia over the disputed referendum in the Ukrainian region of Crimea within hours.

The expected moves come with final results announced by pro-Russian election officials on the Black Sea peninsula on March 17 showing 96.8 percent of voters in the referendum backed joining Russia, whose heavily armed troops are occupying Crimea. Turnout had already been reported at 82 percent.

EU foreign ministers will discuss an asset freeze and visa sanctions on Russian officials in Brussels later in the day.

A U.S. sanctions announcement is also expected soon.

The draft of a final document due to be agreed on by EU foreign ministers, seen by RFE/RL, "strongly condemns" the "illegal" referendum and does not recognize the outcome. It says that an EU-Russia summit scheduled to take place in Sochi in June has been canceled and confirms that the political provisions of an Association Agreement between the EU and the new government in Kyiv will be signed on March 21 in Brussels.

The document also commends the "measured response shown so far by Ukraine" and urges Moscow to take steps to deescalate the crisis and immediately withdraw its forces back to their "precrisis numbers and garrisons."

RFE/RL BLOG on the Ukraine crisis

The moves in Brussels come as a Crimean parliament delegation is due in Moscow on Monday to formally apply to join Russia.

The deputy speaker of Russia's State Duma, Sergei Neverov, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia "in the very near future."

The Ukrainian government has denounced the referendum as conducted under intimidation and force and vowed not to relinquish "one centimeter" of Crimea.

U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone after the voting that the referendum will never be recognized by the international community and that Washington and its European allies are ready to "impose additional costs" on Russia for violating Ukraine's sovereignty.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Obama that the referendum was legitimate.

On the eve of the EU foreign ministers' meeting, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said only Russia could halt sanctions action.

"It is quite clear that the behavior of Russia till now is completely unacceptable," Timmermans said. "I would do anything possible to avoid sanctions because I believe everybody would suffer if we get into sanctions, but the only ones who can prevent this are the Russians."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Russia's "preparations for an annexation of Crimea" are "completely unacceptable."

Steinmeier said that his European colleagues in Brussels now face decisions that will not be easy.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the vote a "mockery" of democracy, while France's Laurent Fabius slammed a referendum "that took place under the threat of Russian occupation forces."

Japan also announced it would not recognize the result of the Crimean vote.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said the results had been "preplanned by the Kremlin as a formal justification to send in its troops."

Pro-Russian demonstrations erupted throughout the day on May 16 in eastern and southern Ukraine, prompting concerns that Moscow would step up what the United States has described as "destabilizing" actions.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced on March 16 that its forces had taken full control of the country's gas transport and distribution system and put them under special guard. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the order from the prime minister had been given "to ensure the security and smooth operation of the country's most important infrastructure asset." It provided no further details.
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In the regional Crimean capital, Simferopol, jubilant crowds turned out to celebrate after polls closed.

Crimea's pro-Russian leader, Sergei Aksyonov, praised their "heroism."

"We did it together thanks to you and your heroism, your support -- thanks to the support of Russia, the Russian people, and its president [Putin]," Aksyonov said. "And no one will take our victory away from us. We are going to Russia. Hurrah! Congratulations to all of you!"

Crimean referendum commission chairman Mykhaylo Malyshev said his office had received no official complaints about violations.

Andriy Krysko, chairman of the Crimean branch of the Voters Committee of Ukraine, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that there were numerous election violations, including voting by "dead souls" on aged voter lists. Krysko also said there was an "abnormally high" number of voters registering under a simplified, on-the-spot procedure at polling stations.

Other groups, including a Crimean Tatar organization, noted further violations.

AFP news agency said its journalists and others were blocked from entering polling stations in Sevastopol and in Simferopol.

Foreign observers were present, although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it would not monitor the vote because it was not officially invited by Ukraine's national government.
A woman hands out free newspapers with the headline "Crimea Chooses Russia" on a street in Simferopol, the Crimean republic's capital, on March 17.
A woman hands out free newspapers with the headline "Crimea Chooses Russia" on a street in Simferopol, the Crimean republic's capital, on March 17.

Many among Crimea’s ethnic Tatar population and pro-Kyiv Ukrainians had been expected to boycott the vote.

Ethnic Russians compose some 60 percent of Crimea's population.

Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has vowed to pursue and deliver justice to separatists and others seeking to undermine the Ukrainian Constitution under Russian "protection."

Crimea was part of Russia until 1954.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, AP, Reuters, AFP, and ITAR-TASS
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