Ukraine’s Crimea Raises Tension by Setting Secession Vote

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Western Diplomats Convene in Rome in Bid to Resolve Ukrainian Crisis.

The Moscow-backed government of Crimea said Thursday that it will hold a referendum on whether to formally secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, dramatically escalating tension as the West tries to negotiate a withdrawal of Russian troops from the region.

The announcement of the regionwide vote—which was pushed forward two weeks to March 16—comes as Western diplomats are huddled in Rome with their Russian counterparts to end the standoff, and just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country wasn’t interested in annexing Crimea.

A Russian move to absorb Crimea against the will of Ukraine would mark the first time since World War II that such a maneuver had been attempted in Europe.

Shortly after the Crimean Parliament announced the coming vote, the White House said it had ordered sanctions and visa restrictions against officials “responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” European leaders threatened sanctions of their own if Russia failed to withdraw its troops from Crimea of engage in talks to defuse the situation.

Crimea’s parliament said in a statement that the move was being taken “as a the result of the unconstitutional coup” that put a new government in place in Kiev last month and the “flagrant violation of the laws of Ukraine” by nationalist forces since the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Shortly after issuing the announcement, Crimea’s parliament itself voted separately on joining Russia. Lawmakers voted for secession, but said the final decision will rest with the people, predicting that the outcome would be “a confirmation of today’s vote.” The government also directed an appeal to Mr. Putin, asking if his country would be prepared to absorb Crimea.

Earlier this week, Mr. Putin said Russia wasn’t interested in annexing Crimea, and that “only the citizens themselves can determine their own future.” Shortly after the Crimean parliament had acted, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin had discussed the possibility of Crimea becoming part of Russia during a meeting of Russia’s security council.

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