Crimea’s parliament made a couple of major moves today. First, it voted unanimously to break off from Ukraine and join Russia. Second, it set a referendum on the question for about 10 days from now. President Obama has dubbed that referendum to be illegal.
Crimea is largely autonomous but it does not have the power to break away and join another country. The referendum is aimed at backing that vote in parliament, though, and strengthening Putin’s hand against Ukraine. Russia continues its drive to make it easier for ethnic Russians in Ukraine to obtain Russian passports. Forces in uniform also stopped 35 unarmed international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from entering Crimea. A visiting United Nations envoy was threatened by 10 to 15 masked gunmen and told not to enter Crimea.
As one might expect, Ukraine isn’t just waving good-bye to its strategic and useful peninsula. Ukraine’s interim prime minister rejected both moves and vowed that Ukraine will defend itself “in case of further escalation and military intervention into Ukrainian territory by foreign forces,” i.e. those 16,000-odd Russian troops wearing unmarked uniforms and currently occupying Crimea.
The US and EU are threatening a range of sanctions against the Russian government and individuals close to Putin. So far, those threats have not caused any public recalculation on Putin’s part.