THE CRIMEAN PENINSULA’S parliament have voted for independence from Ukraine ahead of a referendum on joining the Russia Federation.
The body had earlier voted to actually join Russia, and the latest manoeuvre appeared to be primarily aimed at creating a legal framework for applying to become a part of Russia as a sovereign state.
A parliamentary statement referred to Kosovo’s US-backed separation from Serbia and said “the unilateral declaration of independence of part of a state does not violate any international laws”.
Russia’s foreign ministry quickly endorsed the decision as “absolutely lawful”.
The hold of Kiev’s new Western-backed leaders on the separatist region loosened still further when pro-Kremlin gunmen seized the air traffic control tower at Crimea’s main international airport and cancelled all flights except for those to and from Moscow.
The latest escalation in the crisis also saw Moscow lash out at Washington for promising “illegal” financial assistance to Kiev leaders who rose to power on the back of three months of deadly protests that toppled a Russia-friendly regime.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that sanctions against Russia could come as early as this week if Moscow failed to respond to Western proposals on the standoff.
Demonstrators march during a pro-Russia rally in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Image Credit: Andrey Basevich/AP/Press Association Images)
The European Union also announced trade breaks worth 500 million euros ($690 million) that could ease Ukraine’s burden from restrictions that Russia has threatened in response to Kiev’s tilt toward the West.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile turned down a visit to Russia and a possible meeting with Putin in a diplomatic rebuff of immense proportions that enraged Kremlin officials.
The Russia-US rift was exposed yet again yesterday when Russian state television took the unusual step of airing details of a meeting between Putin and Sergei Lavrov in which the foreign minister complained that Kerry had snubbed a visit Moscow.
The broadcast of the exchange appeared clearly aimed at putting the pressure back on Washington and painting US officials as unwilling to discuss their support for an interim team in Kiev that Putin says claimed power through “an illegitimate coup”.
The US State Department did little to relieve the tension by reporting that Kerry held telephone talks with Lavrov on Tuesday in which the Russian diplomat “stated positions that we heard” before.
Military units in in Simferopol, Ukraine. (Image Credit:AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
It added that Washington wanted to keep the dialogue with Moscow as a matter of principle.
This unusually public row comes a day before Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk heads to the White House for a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Yatsenyuk will also use the chance to iron out the details of a $35 billion aid package he says his nation’s teetering economy needs to stay afloat over the coming two years after being mismanaged by president Viktor Yanukovych — now living in self-imposed exile in Russia.
The White House said Obama would discuss an economic support package that has already seen Washington pledge more than $1 billion and the European Union 11 billion euros over two years.