Ukraine Crisis News Roundup: March 16

by Linda Kinstler | March 16, 2014

With 50 percent of polling stations reporting, 95 percent of votes cast in today's Crimean referendum were in favor of Russian annexation. Three percent voted simply for greater autonomy for Crimea instead of becoming part of Russia, and 1 percent of ballots were invalid, Crimean officials are reporting. Eighty-three percent of Crimea's two million citizens reportedly participated in the referendum, and a final tally will be available Monday morning. In Sevastopol, which had to hold its own referendum on annexation, 93 percent voted in favor of Russian annexation. Here's our primer on today's vote

Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov will lead a delegation of Crimean officials to Moscow on Monday. They will meet with the Russian parliament to discuss the process of annexation. "We will do everything as quickly as possible while respecting all legal procedures," Askenov said

President Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone on Sunday afternoon. Obama said the U.S. is "prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions," and emphasized that a diplomatic solution is still possible but "cannot be achieved while Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory and that the large-scale Russian military exercises on Ukraine’s borders only exacerbate the tension." Compare the Kremlin and White House readouts of the conversation. 

The referendum divided Crimean families along generational lines, WSJ's Paul Sonne reports

In the midst of the referendum on Sunday, Crimea and Russia agreed to a truce stipulating that "until March 21, the Russian military will not block Ukrainian military units," according to Gazeta.ru. Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said that Ukraine must immediately take steps to protect Ukrainian property in the unfinished project of dividing "funds and assets of the former Soviet Union." The Ukrainian parliament also voted to allocate $6.8 billion for defense purposes

Things were relatively calm throughout the day in Crimea: "In general, the situation in Crimea and Sevastopol is calm. Shops, public transportation, public utilities, schools and universities, public and private companies are functioning as usual. Some difficulties have been observed in banks that have placed daily limits on the amount of cash their customers are allowed to withdraw...Russian patrols are mostly located around the Ukrainian military units. The latter are blocked and cannot leave their bases, whatever the orders from Kyiv," FIPRA Ukraine reports. 

Sunday evening, took to the streets to celebrate the outcome of the referendum: 

Emine Dzhaparova:Хороводы, пляски, песни, водка и пиво,народная музыка, российские флаги,сожженые украинские паспорта pic.twitter.com/VGSCV5ZltX

— Українська правда (@ukrpravda_news) March 16, 2014

But violence is quickly escalating in Russian-speaking cities of eastern Ukraine, where Putin has already deployed Russian forces. In Donetsk, over one thousand pro-Russian protesters took over a government building on Sunday. 

Donetsk prosecutor's office is officially occupied. Say they won't leave until "people's gov" Pavel Gubarev released pic.twitter.com/CjcTYzLmqL

— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) March 16, 2014

"Webcams which would have been able to show the demonstration at Lenin Square are not working," FIPRA Ukraine reports. In the eastern city of Kharkov, huge pro-Russian protests took place as at least one pro-Russian group said it would also hold a referendum on Russian annexation. Protesters burned "Ukrainian-language books, including a volume devoted to the 1932-1933 man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine, which killed from 7-10 million people," Reuters reports

#Ukrainian 'Prosvita' building in #Kharkov. Books on History of Ukraine & Hunger-extermination burned by separatists pic.twitter.com/CA4cOT7qBC

— Euromaidan PR (@EuromaidanPR) March 16, 2014

On Saturday, Russian forces invaded the eastern Ukrainian city of Kherson. The Russian Defense Ministry said the purpose of the invasion was to protect a gas plant from a possible terrorist attack. "By early Sunday morning, Sergey Aksyonov, the new pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, was appealing to Russia to send in its Black Sea Fleet to protect this gas plant," Julia Ioffe writes. Ukraine responded by releasing a statement expressing "strong and categorical protest" against the invasion. 

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov asked all Ukrainian citizens to surrender their weapons, Echo Moskvy reports

Ukraine has effectively blocked off its eastern border with Russia and is moving more troops in that direction, the Kyiv Post reports.

Russians have already extricated billions of holdings from U.S. banks, fearing the impact of impending sanctions. Last week, the Federal Reserve reported that over $100 billion of foreign holdings were removed from U.S. banks, according to the Daily Caller. Meanwhile, UK banks are trying to figure out what to do with "85 bank accounts containing millions of pounds" linked to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia TymoshenkoThe Independent reports

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Djemilev has said he is satisfied with Putin's assurances that Russia will protect the Crimean Tatar community, Al Jazeera reportsBut Crimean Tatars still fear that they will once more find themselves persecuted under Russian rule. Here's Oliver Bullough's dispatch from Simferopol

Ellen Barry explains why some of Russia's elite have been long craving a severing of ties with the U.S. "Influential members of the president’s inner circle view isolation from the West as a good thing for Russia," Barry writes in the New York Times. "Some in Mr. Putin’s camp see the confrontation as an opportunity to make the diplomatic turn toward China that they have long advocated." 

Thousands of Russians protested against Crimean annexation on Saturday

Impressive pictures from Moscow today. There is another Russia. pic.twitter.com/pejvw4LRtq

— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) March 15, 2014

The United Nations attempted to pass a resolution condemning today's referendum on Saturday, but Russia blocked it from passing and China abstained.

Former German Chancelor and Gazprom board member Gerhard Schroeder defended Putin's invasion. "Mr Putin had certain justifiable 'fears about being encircled'" Shroeder said, according to The Telegraph

The referendum forced the E.U.'s hand. After weeks of threatening to impose sanctions if Russia did not de-escalate, E.U. countries look to be starting to move toward applying the economic restrictions they prepared, even though they would hurt Europe just as much as Russia

The State Department launched a Twitter account, @UkrProgress, dedicated to countering Russian propaganda on the invasion. The U.S. uses similar tactics to combat terrorism.    

What happens next? Russia will likely launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine. Julia Ioffe explains why geography demands it

The Russian Foreign Ministry certainly drummed up wartime sentiment after the referendum results started to come in on Sunday, posting an old WWII poem, "Wait for Me," to its Facebook page. 

Summing up the referendum results today, Dmitry Kiselev, an anchor on state-controlled TV network "Russia 1," said that most Americans think Putin is a stronger leader than Obama, adding, "Russia is the only country in the world capable of transforming the U.S. into radioactive ash." 

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