Crimea's regional assembly has declared independence from Ukraine and applied to become part of Russia, a day after a March 16 referendum in Crimea showed overwhelming support for joining the Russian Federation. Crimea's election chief said on March 17 that nearly 97 percent of the voters cast ballots in support of secession and accession to Russia. Those opposed to the move had been advised to boycott the lopsided referendum.
A delegation of Crimean lawmakers travels to Moscow on March 17 to discuss procedures to become part of the Federation. In addition, Ukraine's parliament moved to mobilize 40,000 reservists to counter what it considers Russia's "blatant aggression" in Crimea. About 20,000 Ukrainian national guards are also on the march. Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk - speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting in Kyiv- said the Crimea vote was "a circus spectacle" performed at gunpoint by Russia.
Russia's lower house of parliament is expected to pass legislation allowing the Crimea region to join Russia “in the very near future,” said Deputy Speaker Sergei Neverov. Speaking on March 17, Neverov said “The results of the referendum in Crimea clearly showed that residents of Crimea see their future only as part of Russia.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has been quoted as saying he will respect the will of Crimea, even while he ignores pleas from the West that the referendum was illegal because of the presence of Russian troops in southern Crimea. Duma officials say that Crimea may become a member of Russia under current legislation, citing a law “On the procedure for the adoption into the Russian Federation and education of new subjects of the Russian Federation” that was passed in 2001.
The United States and European allies will announce sanctions against Russia on March 17. Speaking to Putin, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. its "European partners are prepared to impose additional costs" for Moscow’s backing of the secessionist referendum in Crimea. A March 16 statement by the White House said the March 16 referendum is illegal and in violation of the Ukrainian constitution. Moreover, said the statement, the referendum will "never be recognized by the United States and the international community."
A previous statement by the White House said that the future of Ukraine should not be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian national government. The statement said that the May 25 presidential elections should be an opportunity for all Ukrainians to make their voices heard. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed on March 16 to push for Ukrainian constitutional reforms for power sharing and decentralization as a solution to the crisis.
Situation on the ground
Ukraine's acting defense minister told on March 17 that Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21. The referendum came just a day after Russian forces seized a natural gas facility in Ukrainian territory just outside of Crimean territory at a town called Strilkove. No shots were fired. Ukraine considers the incursion "a military invasion by Russia." Witnesses and journalists in the Crimea have reported being threatened by unidentified armed men bearing automatic weapons equipped with noise suppressors, giving wings to the theory that they were members of Russia’s feared ‘Spetnaz’ commandos. Observers theorize that the seizure of the natural gas facility is intended to secure the peninsula’s energy requirements should Ukraine cut off supplies.
Ukrainians in their thousands protested in central Kyiv on March 16 to voice opposition to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Ukrainian territory. Crimea is mostly Russian in its ethnic makeup and Moscow claims it is protecting ethnic Russians from persecution by Ukrainian “extremists” who it claims seized power illegally from former President Viktor Yanukovsky.
Russian dissident and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has been critical of the response of President Obama to the crisis. Taking to Twitter, the outspoken dissident has kept up a constant barrage of Putin on a number of issues. While he praised the foreign policy of President Jimmy Carter, who took strong stands on human rights (and who famously called for the U.S. boycott of the Olympics in Russia because of the latter’s invasion of Afghanistan), Kasparov said of Obama that with regard to the Ukraine crisis, “so far, Carter looks like Churchill in comparison.”
Christians in Ukraine are worried about the further repercussions of Russian control of Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. Three Catholic priests were arrested on March 16 and remain unaccounted for. It was during the Communist era, from 1946 until the late 1980s, that the Catholic Church was suppressed and forced to operate underground. Catholic priests were joined by Orthodox clergy not affiliated with the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in standing firm against violence by both sides during the Maidan Square protests that led to the exile of President Yanukovych. The priests actually lined up as a human shield between protesters and security forces during the protests.
Father Mykola Kvych, who is among the Catholic priests currently under arrest, was accused by on March 15 of organizing riots. A notice left on his door also accused him of being a “Vatican spy,” an accusation commonly laid against Catholics during the darkest days of the Communist regime. It was in 1946 that Bishop Theodore Romzha, a Catholic prelate of the Byzantine rite, was murdered by the Soviets in Ukraine, possibly under the orders of future Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Priests and bishops who refused to recant their Catholic faith and their fealty to the Pope of Rome were tortured and imprisoned in the 1940s and 50s.
Russia vrs Ukraine line-up
Russia: Population: 145,500,482
Active frontline personnel: 766,000
Active reserve personel: 2,485,000
Armored fighting vehicles: 27,607
Total aircraft: 3,082
Naval vessels: 352
Ukraine: Population: 44,573, 205
Active frontline personnel: 160,000
Active reserve personnel: 1,000,000
Armored fighting vehicles:6,431
Total aircraft: 400
Naval vessels: 25