UK & World News

  • 17 March 2014, 9:27

Landslide Crimea Vote To Split From Ukraine

Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned of "long term costs and consequences for Russia" following Crimea's decision to break away from Ukraine.

Voters there have voted 97% in favour of breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia, paving the way for sanctions by the West - which has dismissed the poll as a "sham".

Speaking ahead of an emergency meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr Hague said: "It will be a very strong statement and quite important measures for the individuals concerned.

"We are prepared to move to further measures. There will be long-term costs and consequences for Russia if they continue to approach things in this way ... They have done nothing to de-escalate so far."

Crimea's regional assembly said on Monday that all Ukrainian state property would be nationalised as it formally applied to join Russia.

"The republic of Crimea appeals to the United Nations and to all countries of the world to recognise it as an independent state," read a document approved by the assembly.

The White House has also restated its rejection of the referendum and branded Russia's actions "dangerous and destabilising".

Hinting at additional sanctions, Barack Obama told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the West was ready to "impose additional costs" on Moscow for violating Ukraine's sovereignty.

European diplomats have been drawing up a list of Crimean and Russian officials who will be hit with travel bans and asset freezes.

President Putin has insisted the vote is legal and promised to "respect" the result, which saw a 96.77% vote in favour of joining Russia.

Thousands of people had gathered in the Crimean capital Simferopol ahead of the results, waving Russian and Crimean flags as patriotic songs played and fireworks lit up the sky.

People also turned out to celebrate in Sevastopol, where the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet is based.

Lucia Prokorovna, 60, carrying a giant Russian flag said: "We're free of the occupation. Ukraine was attached to Crimea like a sack of potatoes."

The vote, branded illegal by Kiev and Western powers, has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War and threatens to escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

The intervention of Russian military forces in the region, following the ousting as president of Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych last month, led to accusations the poll was conducted "at the barrel of a gun".

Moscow justified the occupation of Crimea, saying it wished to protect the majority ethnic Russian population.

The referendum came against a backdrop of unrest in the divided eastern Ukraine, which has seen pro-Russian demonstrations turn violent.

Kiev has accused "Kremlin agents" of stoking violence in Russian-speaking cities such as Donetsk and urged people not to be provoked into retaliating because clashes could be used by Moscow as an excuse for further interventions.

Moscow also raised the stakes after Russian forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strelkovoye and a nearby gas plant.

It was the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula and while the troops returned the village, they kept control of the gas plant.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has vowed to bring the Crimean politicians who called the referendum to justice, warning: "The ground will burn under their feet."

In a statement, the White House said: "In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another."

Foreign Secretary William Hague also said the UK would not recognise the outcome of the vote, condemning it as "a mockery of proper democratic practice".

He argued sanctions were needed to "send a strong signal to Russia that this challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia will bring economic and political consequences".

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