Putin Declares Crimea an Independent State

MOSCOW — The Crimea moved one step closer to joining Russia Monday as its parliament formally requested Moscow annex the area and Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized the Crimean region of Ukraine as a sovereign independent state following the "will of the people."

Both moves were a sharp rebuff to the White House and the European Union which have declared the referendum illegal and a violation of international law and the Ukraine constitution.

The White House and the EU both announced new punitive economic measures Monday, including sanctions against seven Russian top officials.

Crimean lawmakers were already in Moscow to ask the Russia parliament to annex Crimea. The parliament, or Duma, was expected to take up the issue on Tuesday.

The decree signed by Putin recognized Crimea as a "sovereign and independent" state as a result of the "will of the people of Crimea" as expressed at in Sunday's referendum, the Russian ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

In Kiev, meanwhile, the parliament endorsed a plan to mobilize tens of thousands of reservists to counter Russia's "blatant aggression" in Crimea and to protect possible Russian incursions in southern and eastern parts of the country

The country's defense minister Andriy Parubiy says 40,000 have volunteered to join the government's new national guard, set up just days ago. Many paramilitary groups such as Pravy Sektor, an extreme-right group present at anti-government protests that toppled Ukraine's former president in February have also been independently preparing for war.

"What has taken place is a seizure, blatant aggression, the seizure by Russia of parts of the territory of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol," Parubiy told the chamber before the vote before the 450-seat assembly.

Europe denounced the vote as well.

"The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognized," Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission said in a joint statement Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would address both houses of the Russian parliament on Tuesday to say what Russia should do. Russian troops have fanned out into Ukraine from a leased naval base on the Black Sea, and thousands of Russian troops are drilling on the Ukraine border,

"Personally, I think there will be war," said Oleg Hadimov, who was collecting donations in Kiev for those injured during the city's winter protests against Russian-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych. "The Ukrainian army is not suited (to a fight against Russia). But the people will prevail."

The diplomatic and parliamentary steps on all fronts followed the referendum Sunday in the semi-autonomous Crimea region in which. according to Crimea's election committee, 97% of voters backed a a break from Ukraine and a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and the huge neighboring country.

Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said on Twitter that the region would move to Russian time starting March 30. A delegation of Crimean lawmakers was set to travel to Moscow on Monday for negotiations on how to proceed. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is just a matter of time.

The United States and the European Union on Monday both issued new sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.

In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order leveling new sanctions against seven Russian officials it says have contributed to the crisis in Ukraine and said the measures wold "increase costs on Russia" for their actions.

"If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions," Obama said. He added in a brief statement from the White House that he still believes there could be a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and that the sanctions can be calibrated based on whether Russia escalates or pulls back in its involvement.

In Brussels, the 28 foreign ministers of the European Union agreed on a list Monday of Russian officials to be sanctioned for their part in the Crimea crisis.

The names and nationalities of those affected by the sanctions have not yet been released, but they are thought to be of officials that pushed for the secession and possible annexation of Crimea. The European Union said other measures would be adopted in a few days when EU leaders meet for a summit in Brussels.

"We reiterate the strong condemnation of the unprovoked violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and call on Russia to withdraw its armed forces to their pre-crisis numbers and the areas of their permanent stationing, in accordance with relevant agreements," the EU said in a statement.

Sanctions announced by the White House and European Union will not be strong enough to change the course of Russia's advance on Ukraine, says a former White House Russia analyst.

"It's not clear whether these sanctions will deter putin from moving on eastern Ukraine let alone annexing Crimea," said Andrew Weiss, a White House expert on Russia and Ukraine under former president Bill Clinton. "There's not enough bite in the package. You have to ask yourself what's the purpose and it's not clear."

In the Ukrainian capital, anti-government protesters are warning that the ballot may trigger chaos on the southern peninsula.

"There will be conflict for hundreds of years there," said Igor Gowashenko, a member of a civil defense group, talking about Crimea. "I'm sure the Russian army will destroy stability — by taking people's private property," said Gowashenko, in Kiev.


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