Yesterday, Crimea voted to join the Russian Union, which came as no surprise to much of the Western world. However, this officially means that both the people and parliament of Crimea are in sync with seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. This leaves the European Union and the United States in a difficult position, as they struggle to gain the upper hand in a geopolitical power play that resets the boundaries of the region.
To no one’s surprise, Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region has voted overwhelmingly to break from Ukraine and join Russia. But what happens next is far from certain.
Diplomatically, Sunday’s referendum has put the United States and Russia on the kind of collision course not seen since the Cold War. Economically, it’s unclear how much such a coupling will cost Russia. And politically, it’s divided Crimeans, some of whom think it will bring better pay and some who see this as a Kremlin land grab.
Crimea’s Moscow-backed leaders declared an overwhelming 96.7% vote in favor of leaving Ukraine and being annexed by Russia in a referendum that Western powers said was illegal and will bring sanctions. Turnout was 83%.
On Monday, lawmakers in Crimea approved a resolution that declared the Black Sea peninsula an independent, sovereign state. They then filed an appeal to join the Russian Federation.
Moscow strongly backed Sunday’s referendum; the majority of the population is ethnic Russian. And Russian lawmakers have said they will welcome Crimea with open arms.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will address a joint session of Parliament on Crimea on Tuesday.
The backlash to the referendum from the West has been harsh. EU foreign ministers met to discuss sanctions against Russia.
“I don’t have to remind any of you that it’s illegal under the constitution of Ukraine and under international law,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, which may look at asset freezes and travel restrictions, she called on Russia “yet again” to meet with Ukrainian leaders and try to move toward de-escalation. But, she said, “We’ve seen no evidence of that.”