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In Both Moscow And Crimea, The Path Toward Union Made Easier


The Obama administration's announcement of sanctions comes as Crimea's parliament voted to unite with Russia. It's also called for a referendum on the issue in 10 days. At the same time, lawmakers in Russia began taking steps that could streamline the process of making Crimea a part of Russia.

NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us on the line from Moscow. And, Corey, how has this sanctions announcement from the U.S. been received there?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, so far there hasn't been a lot of official reaction, Audie. It was mentioned on the state-run news programs tonight but most of the attention there was on these decisions by the parliament in Crimea.

CORNISH: Now, as we said, Crimea's parliament has voted to separate from Ukraine and unite with Russia. But it also voted to call a referendum on the issue. What's going on there?

FLINTOFF: Well, parliamentary officials say they voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation and the new deputy prime minister there said that status is already in force. So, in other words, that means that the only lawful armed forces in the Crimea, according to these people, are the Russian armed forces and the Ukrainian forces are occupiers.

The deputy prime minister said the Ukrainian forces have the option to lay down their weapons, accept Russian citizenship and join the Russian military. Otherwise, he says, they'll be given safe passage back to, what he calls their Ukrainian homeland. For what it's worth, the same official officer said plans were underway to make the Russian ruble the currency of Crimea.

But people in Crimea won't get a chance to vote on all this until the 16th of the month. And when they do, officials say they'll get two questions: Should Crimea stay a part of Ukraine only with greater autonomy or should Crimea unite with Russia?

CORNISH: So how is the Ukrainian government reacting to all of this?

FLINTOFF: Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk denounced the move right away. He said the decree that makes Crimea part of Russia is illegal, it's unconstitutional. There's no legal grounds for the planned referendum, he says. And this echoes, pretty much, what President Obama said.

The government in Kiev already regards the parliament in Crimea as illegitimate. They said that the Crimean Parliament seized power. It was an armed take over, so it has no standing. And also, that these moves have been taken while the area is in control of Russian troops.

CORNISH: Now, in the meantime, Russia's preparing legislation that would make it easier for Crimea to become part of the Russian Federation, but is that likely?

FLINTOFF: You know, it's hard to say whether it's really likely, Audie. Some analysts say that it really could be more advantageous for Russia if Crimea remains part of Ukraine. For one thing, Crimea is a reliable source of pro-Russian votes that can influence Ukraine's national politics. Whereas, if Crimea became a part of Russia they'd lose that leverage.

But despite that, Prime Minister Medvedev said legislation's being prepared that would make it easier to grant Russian citizenship to any native Russian speakers whose families either resided in pre-revolutionary Russia or were a part of the former Soviet Union. And then a member of parliament, Sergey Mironov, announced that the parliament's preparing to amend an existing law that has to do with territories joining the Russian Federation.

And he said this is designed to fit the Crimean situation, namely a case where there isn't a bilateral agreement with a country that would be losing the territory. Mironov claims that there's no such agreement between Russia and Ukraine, although the United States and its allies have argued that both countries are party to a lot of agreements that should protect Ukraine's territorial integrity.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Corey, thank you.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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