Official results: 97 percent of Crimea voters back joining Russia

Mar 17, 2014 4:46 AM

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (CBS) - The final results of the referendum in Crimea show that 97 percent of voters have supported leaving Ukraine to join Russia, the head of the referendum election commission said Monday.

Mikhail Malyshev told a televised news conference that final tally from Sunday's vote was 96.8 percent in favor of splitting from Ukraine. He also said the commission has not registered a single complaint about the vote.

The referendum was widely condemned by Western leaders, who are expected to announce sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and potential asset freezes, as early as Monday.

Ukraine's new government in Kiev called the referendum a "circus" directed at gunpoint by Moscow.

Crimea's parliament declared the region an independent state Monday, The Associated Press reports. The parliament also formally asked that Crimea become part of Russia, according to a statement on the parliament's website, the Reuters news agency says. And Crimean lawmakers were to fly to Moscow later in the day for talks, Crimea's prime minister said on Twitter.

Also, Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia "in the very near future", the Russian news agency Interfax cited the chamber's deputy speaker as saying, according to Reuters.

Meantime, Ukraine's parliament endorsed a presidential decree Monday to stage a partial mobilization involving 40,000 reservists, Reuters reports.

The Crimean peninsula has been under the control for two weeks now of troops under apparent Russian command.

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strilkove and a key natural gas distribution plant nearby - the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula of 2 million people.

The Russian forces later withdrew from the village but kept control of the gas plant. On Sunday, Ukrainian soldiers were digging trenches and erecting barricades between the village and the gas plant.

President Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that Crimea's vote "would never be recognized" by the United States, as he and other top U.S. officials warned Moscow against making further military moves toward southern and eastern Ukraine.

The two leaders spoke after the vote in Crimea but before official results were announced.

The United States, European Union and others say the referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and took place in the strategic peninsula under duress of Russian military intervention. Putin maintained that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination, according to the Kremlin.

But the White House said Mr. Obama reminded Putin that the U.S. and its allies in Europe would impose sanctions against Russia should it annex Crimea.

During the call, which came amid an exchange of decidedly Cold War-style rhetoric between East and West, Mr. Obama urged Putin to pursue a diplomatic de-escalation of the crisis, support the Ukraine government's plans for political reform, return its troops in Crimea to their bases, and halt advances into Ukrainian territory and military build-ups along Ukraine's borders.

Mr. Obama told Putin "a diplomatic resolution cannot be achieved while Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory and that the large-scale Russian military exercises on Ukraine's borders only exacerbate the tension," the White House said in a statement.

Also before official results of the referendum were announced, the White House denounced the vote, saying, "No decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government" and noting that Russia had rejected the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians there were protected.

"Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border," the White House said, calling those actions "dangerous and destabilizing."

But with no military response envisioned, and with U.S. and EU sanctions apparently foregone conclusions, the Obama administration slightly shifted its focus to keeping Russia from encroaching into Ukraine beyond Crimea, where it has a large naval base.

U.S. officials warned that any Russia moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.

In a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "strong concerns" about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, where Russian troops appeared Saturday, and about "continuing provocations" in cities in east Ukraine, the State Department said.

Kerry "made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement," it said.

He also urged Russia "to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralization through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities," including ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and others in the former Soviet republic whom Russia says it is concerned about, the department said.

The call was the second between Kerry and Lavrov since they had six hours of unsuccessful face-to-face talks on London on Friday.

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