x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Putin recognises Crimea as sovereign state

The US and its allies in Europe are expected to announce sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and potential asset freezes, on Monday, one day after Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

KIEV // Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree yesterday recognising Ukraine’s Crimea region as a sovereign state, according to the Kremlin press service.

Crimea declared independence from Ukraine yesterday, triggering the toughest western sanctions against Russia since the Cold War. Washington and the European Union imposed asset freezes and travel bans and the US president, Barack Obama, vowed to “increase the cost” if the Kremlin did not back down.

Ukraine’s turmoil has become Europe’s most severe security crisis in years and tensions have been high since Russian troops seized control of Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula. Russian troops are also massed near the border with Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s acting president raised tensions by calling for the activation of about 20,000 military reservists and volunteers across the country and for the mobilisation of another 20,000 in the recently formed national guard.

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, ethnic Russians applauded the referendum held on Sunday that overwhelmingly called for secession and for joining Russia. Masked men in body armour blocked access for most journalists to the parliament session that declared independence, but the city otherwise appeared to go about its business normally.

The US, EU and Ukraine’s new government do not recognise the referendum in Crimea, which was called hastily as Ukraine’s political crisis deepened with the ousting of the pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovich, following months of protests and sporadic bloodshed.

In addition to calling the vote itself illegal, the Obama administration said there were “massive anomalies” in balloting that returned a 97 per cent “yes” vote for joining Russia. Mr Obama warned Russia could face more financial punishment.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.

The Crimean referendum could also encourage rising pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine’s east and lead to further divisions in the nation of 46 million.

A delegation of Crimean MPs was set to travel Moscow last night for negotiations on how to proceed. Russian legislators have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is almost certain – with one saying it could happen within days.

The Crimean parliament declared that all Ukrainian state property on the peninsula will be nationalised and become the property of the Crimean Republic. Legislators also asked the United Nations and other nations to recognize it and began work on setting up a central bank with US$30 million (Dh110m) from Russia.

The US announced sanctions against seven Russian officials, including the deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, Mr Putin’s close ally Valentina Matvienko, who is speaker of the upper house of parliament, and Vladislav Surkov, one of Mr Putin’s top ideological aides. The treasury department also targeted Mr Yanukovich, the Crimean leader, Sergei Aksyonov, and two other top figures.

The EU’s foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine, but did not immediately release the names and nationalities of those targeted by the sanctions.

Moscow, meanwhile, called on Ukraine to become a federal state as a way of resolving the polarisation between Ukraine’s western regions – which favour closer ties with the 28-nation EU – and its eastern areas, which have long ties to Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry urged Ukraine’s parliament to call a constitutional assembly that could draft a new constitution to make the country federal, handing more power to its regions.

It also said the country should adopt a “neutral political and military status”, a demand reflecting Moscow’s concern about the prospect of Ukraine joining Nato and possibly integrating closer politically and economically with the EU.

* Associated Press