Crimea crisis: Foreign leaders condemn ‘Russia’s destabilising actions’ as 93% vote in referendum for secession

Crimea votes 93 per cent in favour of coming under rule of the Kremlin as Ukrainian leaders in Kiev vow to hunt down separatist ringleaders and bring them to justice. Kim Sengupta reports from Simferopol

Crimea has voted to embrace Kremlin rule, escalating an already grave international crisis to an incendiary level.

Amid scathing attacks that voting had been illegal, rigged and delivered under the shadow of threats from Russian troops, exit polls –according to news agencies in Moscow – were tonight showing that 93 per cent had voted for joining Russia, higher even than the 82 per cent claimed a few hours earlier by Crimea’s Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev and 80 per cent a few days ago by the Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov.

There were fireworks, fiery speeches and songs as several thousand supporters of joining Russia celebrated in Simferpol”s   Lenin Square on Sunday night.

The announcement of the result was met by prolonged and deafening cheers and chants of “ Russia, Russia” from the growing crowd. Two leaders of the separatist government, prime minister Sergei Aksyonov and speaker Vladimir Konstantinov roused them to an even higher pitch by announcing that a delegation will be travelling to Moscow on Monday to accept Crimea into the Russian Federation.

 

Three veterans of the Soviet Union’s Afghan War was taken through the crowd to loud applause; one of them, in a wheelchair, held up his row of medals: “ I am now back in my own country, I didn’t fight and lose my legs for those Nazis in Kiev.” An elderly couple were in tears as the national anthem was sung; Mr Aksyonov, however, was not moving his lips, offering the suspicion that the great patriot did not know the words.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev called what had taken place a “ circus” and vowed to hunt down separatist “ringleaders” and “bring them to justice”. Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly created National Guard to defend the nation and warned Crimean politicians who had called the vote that “the ground will burn under their feet”.

The US and European Union stated they would not recognise the process or the outcome and threatened Russia with further economic sanctions, which are due to be discussed at a meeting of foreign ministers today. The Russian President Vladimir Putin, they warned, must not to use the results to annex the state.

Read more: Crimea’> > s Russian Union: What happens next?
Comment: Is the West trying to upset the Russians?
Editorial: Putin’s land-grab does not mean a return of the Soviet empire

In Simferopol on Sunday night, pro-Russians were holding a rally and concert at Lenin Square; there were processions of cars and motorbikes with horns blowing and fireworks exploding. Among those celebrating was Leonid Baskarov, a former soldier: “This is the greatest day of my life; it is the greatest day of the life of Crimea,” he shouted with roars of approval from other revelers.

But in the neighbourhoods of Crimea’s Tatar and Ukrainian minorities, the streets were empty – the atmosphere one of deep trepidation.

The last day of united Ukraine had been a strangely muted one; the already semi-autonomous region of Crimea was slipping away without any signs of outrage on the streets. The opponents of secession appeared to have accepted a fait accompli, preparing themselves for the tempestuous times that lay ahead.

There were potential flashpoints, including the revelation by the governing council of the largely anti-Russian Tatar community, the Mejlis, that an activist who had been missing for almost two weeks had been found dead, his body bearing marks of torture. There were also claims of irregular time-keeping at polling stations in pro-Russian areas, and that those locations had been used by people ineligible to vote.

Most of those opposed to secession had boycotted the referendum, including: the overwhelming majority of the Tatar community, who, according to the last census taken 13 years ago, account for 13 per cent of the state’s population; the Ukrainians, who make up 23 per cent; and a significant minority of Russians, who form 53 per cent.

In Washington, the White House spokesman Jay Carney said the vote was as “dangerous and destabilising… As the United States and our allies have made clear, military intervention and violation of international law will bring increasing costs for Russia – not only due to measures imposed by the United States and our allies but also as a direct result of Russia’s own destabilising actions.”

The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, arriving for the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, said: “I condemn the fact that this referendum has taken place, in breach of the Ukrainian constitution and in defiance of calls by the international community for restraint... The UK does not recognise the referendum or its outcome... we believe measures must be adopted that send a strong signal to Russia that this challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine will bring economic and political consequences.”

Despite the threats against separatists from Kiev on Sunday, the presence of the Kremlin’s force of 21,000 will make exacting retribution a difficult proposition. Mr Yatsenyuk has just returned from America where he has received plenty of expressions of moral support but no offer of weapons for the fledgling National Guard.

The Ukrainian Defence Minister, Ihor Tenyukh, complained about Moscow far exceeding the bilateral agreed limit for 12,500 personnel to be deployed in Crimea with the Black Sea Fleet. But he also announced that a truce had been arranged with Moscow until 21 March.

Details of this were not clear. Ukrainian officials stated that this meant siege of their forces inside Crimea would be lifted until that date. But their Crimean counterparts held this was to ensure there were no outbreaks of hostilities as they begin their process of withdrawal, which Mr Aksyonov had declared should start today. The two countries’ are also in a stand-off further north, where Kiev has accused the Russians of occupying the border village of Striklove.

Meanwhile, separatist protests which had led to deaths in recent days continued in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country. In Donetsk, the office of the chief prosecutor was stormed by a crowd chanting “Donetsk is a Russian city”; the group then attacked the headquarters of the security services.

The Russian government had reserved the right to intervene elsewhere in the Ukraine when sending troops into Crimea; Mr Putin was reported to have expressed his disquiet over what was happening in Donetsk to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone conversation blaming right-wing groups acting with the consent of the Kiev government.

The German foreign ministry stated that Ms Merkel had taken the opportunity to propose expanding the number of international observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to eastern Ukraine and this had met with Mr Putin’s approval. This will not, however, happen in Crimea, where attempts by an OSCE military team to gain entry had failed at the border with, on one occasion, members of pro-Russian self-defence forces firing over their heads.

At Bakhchisarai, the ancient capital of the Tatar kingdom which once ruled this region, Ilmi Umarov, the head of the regional administration, was holding urgent talks with the visiting Lithuanian ambassador. “We feel that our people are now in great danger and we are making this aware to the international community. There has been a lot of intimidation and we have to ensure that our people do not react to provocation.”

At one of the town’s polling stations, Tamara Garbus, pointed out it was the violence at the Maidan [the centre of pro-EU protests in Kiev] which Russia blamed on fascists and neo-Nazis, which had persuaded her to vote for joining Russia. “I am 62 years old, I did not want to leave Ukraine for another country”, she said. “But we were very frightened that these fascists would come to Crimea and do the same kind of things. It is Ukraine which has driven us away.” Some others felt that the West had taken a highly patronising attitude towards Crimean aspirations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing