Simferopol, March 11 – Confident that residents in Ukraine’s southeastern Crimean region will vote to become part of Russia in an upcoming referendum, Moscow is looking ahead to the next step. Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, will discuss legislation on March 21 on Crimea joining the nation, the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency reported Tuesday.
Crimea will hold a referendum Sunday on whether the peninsula should become a part of Russia or remain within Ukraine. The hastily convened public poll follows a unanimous vote by Crimea’s local parliament in favor of leaving Ukraine for Russia. Ukraine’s interim government has called the referendum unconstitutional.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also called the referendum illegal, tweeting on his official account Tuesday that sanctions against Russia over its intervention in Crimea could come as soon as this week. Sanctions would include freezing assets and visa suspensions, he said.
“We have a firm position, but still we are seeking a political solution,” he tweeted. “The only legitimate vote in Ukraine will be May 25, the upcoming presidential election.” The pro-Russian regional government in Crimea was installed less than two weeks ago after armed men seized the parliament building and raised the Russian flag above it.
Russia denies its military is involved in Crimea, saying the well-equipped, pro-Russian troops who have taken over key Ukrainian military sites are local “self-defense” forces. But the government in Kiev, the United States and the European Union say the soldiers — wearing uniforms without insignia — belong to the Russian military.
The forces have been consolidating their hold on key sites in Crimea over the past week. A flight from Kiev was turned back from Simferopol International Airport on Tuesday, Ukraine International Airlines said, in what appears to be a shift to allow only selected flights into Crimea. Turkish Airlines said it also had suspended its flights into Simferopol, the regional capital.