Russia recognises Crimean sovereignty as EU-US sanctions imposed
Obama warns ‘further provocations’ would only increase Moscow’s isolation
People wave Russian flags as fireworks explode in the sky over Sevastopol in the Crimea region of Ukraine tonight. Russian president Vladimir Putin, who on 17 March has signed a decree recognising Crimea as an independent and sovereign state. Photograph: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA.
A woman reads a free newspaper with the headline ‘Crimea chooses Russia’ on a street in Simferopol, Crimea. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Members of a Crimean self-defence unit spot check a man’s bag on a street in Simferopol today. Photograph: Stringer /Reuters
The United States and European Union have imposed personal sanctions on Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine as Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising the region as a sovereign state.
The moves heightened the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War, following a disputed referendum in the Black Sea peninsula yesterday in which Crimea’s leaders declared a Soviet-style, 97 per cent vote to secede from Ukraine.
Within hours, the Crimean parliament formally asked that Russia “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic”.
Mr Putin will tomorrow address a special joint session of Russia’s State Duma, or parliament, which could take a decision on annexation of the majority ethnic-Russian region.
That would dismember Ukraine, a former Soviet republic once under Moscow’s thumb, against its will. Kiev and the West said the referendum, held under armed Russian occupation, violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law.
Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February following the toppling of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich after deadly clashes between riot police and protesters trying to overturn his decision to spurn a trade and cooperation deal with the EU in favour of cultivating closer ties with Russia.
US president Barack Obama slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Mr Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Mr Putin.
Mr Putin himself, suspected in the West of trying to resurrect as much as possible of the former Soviet Union under Russian leadership, was not on the blacklist. A White House spokesman declined to rule out adding him at a later stage.
Amid fears that Russia may move into eastern Ukraine where there is a significant Russian-speaking community, Mr Obama warned that “further provocations” would only increase Moscow’s isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.
“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.
A senior US official said Mr Obama’s order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership.
In Brussels, the EU’s 28 foreign ministers agreed to subject 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to visa restrictions and asset freezes for their roles in the events. They included three Russian military commanders in Crimea and districts bordering on Ukraine.
There were only three names in common on the US and European lists - Crimean prime minister Sergey Aksyonov, Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov and Leonid Slutski, chairman of the Russian Duma’s committee on the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), grouping former Soviet republics.