Russia gave its clearest signal yet Monday that it plans to move fast to annex Crimea, defying U.S. and European threats of sanctions a day after a referendum in the breakaway Ukrainian region to secede passed handily.
The Moscow-backed leadership of Crimea wasted no time in formally asking to join Russia following the hastily called referendum in which 97% of voters supported becoming part of Russia.
“We will take care of our part quickly, quickly and responsibly,” Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, told reporters in response to the Crimean parliamentary vote, according to local news agencies.
Mr. Naryshkin’s comments came shortly after officials announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will address a joint session of parliament Tuesday on the issue.
The Kremlin didn’t immediately specify what Mr. Putin’s message would be, but the official ITAR-Tass news agency said the address would cover “accepting Crimea into the Russian Federation.”
European diplomats gathered in Brussels to finalize sanctions aimed at deterring Moscow from annexing Crimea, a move the U.S. and Europe argue is illegal and illegitimate. Diplomats said those sanctions are likely to be limited to a small number of Russian and Crimean officials, however.
The new government in Crimea didn’t even wait for formal acceptance from Moscow before saying it would adopt the Russian ruble and shift the region’s clocks two hours ahead to match Moscow time.
In Kiev, Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh showed no signs of going along with the process, telling reporters that authorities had agreed to a “truce” with Crimean leaders until Mar. 21 around the Ukrainian bases on the peninsula.
“Our servicemen remain in Crimea and are not going anywhere. Crimea is and will be Ukrainian,” he said.
Ukraine and Russia have been at odds since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych ushered in an opposition, pro-Western government. Russia has insisted it has the right to protect Russian speakers, many of whom live in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
Also Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry released Monday what it said were its basic proposals for resolving the crisis.
They included a guarantee backed by the United Nations Security Council of Ukraine’s status as a neutral country, as well as a constitutional assembly that would rewrite the document to give regions greater autonomy, including in foreign policy, and also formalize Russian as a second official language alongside Ukrainian. The proposal also called for respecting the results of Sunday’s vote in Crimea.