Russia’s strong man president Vladimir Putin has, in a decree, formally recognized Crimea as an independent state, after the overwhelming majority of the peninsula's voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The recognition of independence is a step toward the subsequent procedures, specified by the federal constitutional law about the procedure of incorporating into the Russian Federation of new regions. The decree, which was effective immediately, paves the way for the absorption of Crimea into Russia.
Russians celebrate the annexation of Crimea - perhaps as the first ever Russian victory in the post-Soviet era. Many Russian leaders applauded Putin’s courage. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has defended Russia's takeover of Crimea, saying that the referendum among the peninsula's voters corrected a historical “mistake." Gorbachev, the recipient of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, added that international sanctions — such as those the U.S. and European nations have brought against Russia — would be justified only on very serious grounds, but the takeover of Crimea had failed to provide that.
The Ukrainian government, European Union countries and the USA have all decried the referendum as a sham. Voters were given just two weeks to contemplate their choices, amid the heavy presence of Russian troops, and with television coverage limited to Russia's state-run broadcasters. The referendum ballots gave voters no option for voting against joining Russia, with the choices on the ballot limited to secession to Russia or rewriting Crimea's constitution to give the region greater autonomy from Ukraine. More than 83 percent of Crimea's eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum, most of them ethnic Russians. Nearly 97 percent of the votes were in favour of joining Russia.
Many Russians have used Crimea's history as a reason to legitimate Russian military intervention in the peninsula, which harbors a 60 percent Russian-speaking population and voted in favor of joining Russia in a referendum. Crimea was part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed it over to Ukraine in 1954, in a symbolic gesture that had little significance at the time since both countries were part of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the leader of the Russian Soviet Republic, Boris Yeltsin, and his counterparts from Ukraine and Belarus signed a deal breaking up the Soviet Union and establishing new independent states. Gorbachev did not participate in the 1991 meeting.
Meanwhile, in order to pacify Russian anger, Ukraine's new pro-Western Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said in a 10-minute televised appeal delivered in Russian that Ukraine is not seeking membership in NATO.. Yatsenyuk, who came to office after the removal of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych said that decentralization of power was a key plank of government policy. Yatsenyuk also said Ukraine's authorities were determined to disarm all groups holding weapons, regardless of their aims. Yatsenyuk said Ukraine would sign the political part of an association agreement with the 28-nation EU, but would put off agreement on economic issues.
It was Yanukovych's decision not to sign the association accord with the EU and to pivot toward Moscow that ignited the street protests in Kiev last November that finally led to his ouster. Kiev pursued a policy of closer ties with the USA-led NATO alliance before Yanukovych took power in 2010. Yanukovych then formally scrapped the idea of Ukraine's eventual membership of NATO, declaring "non-bloc" neutrality for his nation of 46 million sandwiched between Russia and the European Union. Russia, whose forces control Ukraine's Crimea region, says Yanukovych remains the legitimate president and denounces Kiev's new authorities in Kiev as anti-Russian.
Militiamen under apparent Russian command barged their way into Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol, detaining the head of Ukraine's navy and seizing the facility. Upon gaining entrance to the base, the storming party raised a Russian flag on the headquarters square. By afternoon, they were in full control of the naval headquarters, a set of three-story white concrete buildings. With thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and sailors trapped on military bases, surrounded by heavily armed Russian forces and pro-Russia militia, the Kiev government said it was drawing up plans to evacuate its outnumbered troops from Crimea back to the mainland and would seek UN support to turn the peninsula into a demilitarized zone.
Attempting to face down the unblinking incursion, Ukraine said it would hold joint military exercises with the USA and Britain. Ukraine has been powerless to prevent Russian troops from taking control of Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin formally annexed on 19th march with the stroke of a pen. Crimea's absorption came after a hastily organized referendum in which the population overwhelmingly, albeit under conditions akin to martial law, voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Ukraine quickly announced plans for mass troop withdrawals from the strategic peninsula as Moscow-loyal forces seized control of Kiev's naval headquarters at Crimea and detained its commander. Hours after masked Russian-speaking troops forced their way onto Ukraine's main naval base, Ukrainian soldiers streamed out carrying clothing and other belongings in bags. A group of local militia and Cossacks, later joined by officers from Russia's Black Sea Fleet, looked on. Many servicemen have already switched sides to Russia, but authorities said they were prepared to relocate as many as 25,000 soldiers and their families to the Ukrainian mainland.
Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council announced Ukraine would hold military maneuvers with the United States and Britain, signatories, along with Russia, of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The document was designed to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity when it surrendered its share of Soviet nuclear arsenals to Russia after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Ukraine has accused Russia of breaching the agreement by taking over the Crimean Peninsula.
Given its military prowess and influences, perhaps Russia's inexorable seizure of Crimea is unavoidable. Humbled but defiant, Ukraine lashed out symbolically at Russia by declaring its intent to leave the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of 11 former Soviet nations. The last nation to leave the group was Georgia, which lost a brief war with neighboring Russia in 2008 and ended up losing two separatist territories.
Moscow says it reserves the right to "defend" Russian speakers in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. Moving closer to the EU does not preclude Ukraine maintaining good relations with Russia, Yatsenyuk said. Beyond the grander political gestures of the day, Parubiy said Ukraine's Foreign Ministry had been instructed to introduce a visa regime for travel between the two nations. The move could badly affect Ukrainian migrant labourers, many of whom work in Russia and send home money. It came against the backdrop of claims that Russian citizens were pouring across the Ukrainian border to foment secessionist unrest in bordering eastern regions.
In Washington, the Pentagon said it would participate as planned in a multinational military exercise this summer in Ukraine. Dubbed "Rapid Trident," the ground maneuvers have been held annually for a number of years with forces from Britain and other NATO countries as well as Ukraine, which has a partner relationship with NATO but is not a member. Last year, the two-week maneuvers involving 17 nations were held in July. Meanwhile, in a warning to Moscow, US vice president Biden declared that the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies, including neighbors to Russia. Standing with two Baltic leaders in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, Biden said the US was "absolutely committed" to defending its allies, adding that President Barack Obama plans to seek concrete commitments from NATO members to ensure the alliance can safeguard its collective security. "Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavioru," Biden said
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was headed to the region to try to seek a diplomatic way out of the crisis. Ban has repeatedly called for a solution guided by the principles of the UN Charter including sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine. A 34-member UN human rights monitoring mission was also scheduled to be in place shortly. It expressed particular concern over the security of Tatars and other ethnic minorities in Crimea.
Russia's Constitutional Court chairman, Valery Zorkin, said the treaty signed by Putin has been ruled valid, meaning it now only requires ratification by the Russian parliament. Russia seems fully satisfied with the western responses the annexation of Crimea as both USA ad EU, undertook, rather reluctantly, mild sanction just as a mere formality.
Ukraine signals it would not go far any war with Russia over Crimea and would not even pursue any animosity either with Kremlin. It all depends now on US posture over the issue.
Russia now legalizes annexation of Crimea!