Crimea Backs Joining Russia with Huge Majority, EU Mulls SanctionsWorld | March 17, 2014, Monday // 10:19| views
Photo by BGNES
The population of Ukraine's Crimea region has backed a split from Ukraine, local election officials have said.
On a referendum on Sunday, 97% of voters, or more than 1.2 million people, cast their ballot in favour of joining the Russian Federation, RIA Novosti has reported.
After the annexation was approved, Crimean leaders will expectedly apply to the Kremlin to join Russia.
Officials have announced they could take the measure as early as Monday, immediately after the vote.
Reports by the BBC suggest that the process of absorbing Crimea could take place under existing laws. Earlier this month, Moscow's Parliament voted in favour of accepting Crimea into the Federation if this is the will of its citizens.
ITAR-TASS agency has informed that a delegation of Crimea officials will set off for Moscow on Monday.
In the peninsular region's capital, Simferopol, newly-appointed Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov told his supporters that Crimea was "going home".
The West has condemned the vote as illegal, with the EU considering a visa ban an an asset freeze against Russian officials, who according to earlier reports include high-ranking officials of Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
It is yet to be decided whether people from the inner circle of Russia's ruling elite would be targeted by the sanctions. Sources cited by Der Spiegel magazine have hinted that the blacklist might include key political, military and business figures.
EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Russia and Ukraine to start dialogue over the situation on the peninsula.
Tensions have heightened in Crimea over the past few weeks, after Ukraine accused Russia of dispatching troops to the peninsula of Crimea, where ethnic Russians constitute over 58% of the population.
Moscow has insisted that it has the right to send soldiers as it had to protect its minority within Ukraine, but has denied having done it and has described the armed men stationed across Crimea as self-defense units.
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