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Kerry: US Will Not Accept Outcome of Crimea Referendum

Image: Kerry: US Will Not Accept Outcome of Crimea Referendum
People cast their vote at a polling station on March 16 in Simferopol, Crimea.

By    |   Sunday, 16 Mar 2014 12:45 PM

WASHINGTON — The United States told Russia on Sunday that it would not accept the results of Crimea's referendum on seceding from Ukraine and it continued to urge a political resolution on Moscow, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

The official, describing a telephone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday morning, urged Russia to back constitutional reform in Ukraine that would protect the rights of minorities such as Crimea's Russian-speaking population.

The European Union on Sunday called Crimea's referendum on joining Russia "illegal and illegitimate", announcing that it would decide on sanctions on Monday.

"The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognized," the European Council and European Commission presidents said in a joint statement.

EU foreign ministers "will evaluate the situation tomorrow in Brussels and decide on additional measures" against Moscow, they said.

Crimeans voted in a referendum on Sunday on whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, with Kiev accusing Moscow of pouring forces into the peninsula and warning separatist leaders "the ground will burn under their feet".

Caught in an East-West crisis reminiscent of the Cold War, Kiev said Russia's build-up of forces in the Black Sea region was in "crude violation" of an international treaty, and announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly-created National Guard to defend the nation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the referendum complied with international law and respected the will of the Crimean people, while his foreign ministry said it had agreed with the United States to seek a solution to the crisis through constitutional reform.

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk threatened dire consequences for Crimean politicians who had called the vote, saying separatist "ringleaders" wanted to destroy Ukrainian independence "under the cover of Russian troops".

"We will find all of them — if it takes one year, two years — and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts. The ground will burn under their feet," he told a cabinet meeting.

Yatseniuk had just returned from a U.S. trip where he won expressions of moral support but no offers of weapons. Kiev's pro-European rulers, who took power after last month's fall of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych to popular unrest, have been as powerless as Western governments to prevent the referendum or buildup of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.

At a polling booth at a school in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, dozens of people lined up outside to cast their ballots early.

"I have voted for Russia," said Svetlana Vasilyeva, 27, a veterinary nurse. "This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers."

Vasilyeva voiced fears common among some of Ukraine's native Russian-speakers about the consequences of Yanukovich's downfall after protests in which over 100 people were killed. "We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?" she said.

But ethnic Tatars - Sunni Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea's population - said they would boycott the vote despite promises by the regional authorities to give them financial aid and proper land rights.

"This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not? Who asked me?" said Shevkaye Assanova, a Crimean Tatar in her 40s. "For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don't recognize this at all. I curse all of them."

Crimea's 1.5 million voters have two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants — including Moscow.

Ukrainian acting defense minister Ihor Tenyukh accused Moscow of going far beyond an agreed limit on servicemen - which he said was 12,500 for 2014.

"Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000. This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea," he said.

This figure had risen from 18,400 on Friday. "Let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it," he told Interfax news agency.

Tenyukh later said that the defense ministries in Kiev and Moscow had declared a truce until March 21 during which Russian forces, who have been arriving by boat and helicopter, would leave Ukrainian military facilities untouched.

Many Crimeans hope a union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. But others see the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country towards the European Union and away from Russia's sway.

Putin defended the vote in a phone call on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it complied with international law, including Article 1 of the U.N. Charter which states the principle of self-determination of peoples. "It was emphasized that Russia will respect the choice of the Crimean people," a Kremlin statement said.

Putin has said he must protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine from "fascists" in Kiev who ousted Yanukovych. Western powers largely dismiss his characterization of the new authorities as successors of Nazi-allied Ukrainian forces which fought the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged his U.S. counterpart John Kerry on Sunday to encourage authorities in Kiev to stop what he called "massive lawlessness" against the Russian-speaking population.

In their second phone conversation in two days, Lavrov and Kerry agreed to seek a solution to the crisis by pushing for constitutional reforms in Ukraine, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

However, the White House warned Putin that he faces international isolation that will hurt Russia's economy. "You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told NBC's Meet the Press.

The administration is preparing to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes that President Barack Obama authorized last week.

At the United Nations, 13 Security Council members voted for a draft resolution on Saturday saying the Crimea result should not be recognized internationally, but Moscow exercised its veto while China abstained.

Tensions over Crimea appear also to be spreading in cyberspace. Unidentified hackers brought down several public NATO websites with attacks on Saturday, the alliance said.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter that the attacks, which began on Saturday evening, continued on Sunday, although most services had now been restored.

"It doesn't impede our ability to command and control our forces. At no time was there any risk to our classified networks," another NATO official said.

A group calling itself "cyber berkut" — named after riot police formally disbanded by the central powers in Kiev — said the attack had been carried out by patriotic Ukrainians angry over what they saw as NATO interference in their country.

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The United States told Russia on Sunday that it would not accept the results of Crimea's referendum on seceding from Ukraine and it continued to urge a political resolution on Moscow, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
EU,US,Crimea,Russia,Ukraine
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Sunday, 16 Mar 2014 12:45 PM
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