The Russian-controlled parliament of Ukraine’s Crimea area voted Thursday to secede and join Russia, and set a March 16 public vote on the latest move aimed at wresting the strategic peninsula from Ukraine. Officials in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev said such a vote would be meaningless as the Ukrainian constitution requires that any changes to national borders or territory be voted on by the entire country. The referendum on Crimea’s future, announced by the region’s first deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, moved up the date for the controversial vote by two weeks. Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council called an emergency session to respond to the Crimean action, the Ukraine Crisis Media Center reported.
Crimea has become the focal point of Russia’s political challenge to the new Ukrainian leadership that filled the power vacuum created when the country’s elected president, Viktor Yanukovich, fled Kiev on Feb. 21 after agreeing to early elections and an interim government of national unity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the interim Kiev leadership as illegitimate and accused the former opposition politicians in governing positions of unconstitutionally seizing power in a coup d’etat.