, SIMFEROPOL, Mar 17 – Crimea will formally apply to join Russia on Monday after voting to split from Ukraine as Europe prepared to hit Moscow with a wave of sanctions in the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War.
An overwhelming 95.5 percent of voters on the mostly Russian-speaking peninsula chose to secede from Ukraine, according to partial results from Sunday’s referendum, which the Kremlin is accused of orchestrating.
Crimea’s regional assembly will meet early Monday to apply to merge with Russia, a process that could take months and is mired in uncertainty for a region that remains heavily dependent on the Ukraine mainland.
There was sharp international condemnation of the vote, which could see the most radical redrawing of the map of Europe since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
The European Union said the referendum was “illegal and illegitimate” and its outcome would not be recognised.
In Brussels on Monday, European foreign ministers are expected to unfurl sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes against leading figures in Moscow. However, members of the Russian government are not expected to be affected.
US President Barack Obama phoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday and told him the vote “under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognised by the United States and the international community.”
Obama threatened “additional costs” for Moscow after the United States last week imposed visa bans targeting those blamed for threatening the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Crimea has emerged as the epicentre of a crisis that erupted when the splintered ex-Soviet nation’s Russian-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last months after months of bloody pro-EU demonstrations in Kiev. READ: Ukraine braces for Crimea breakaway vote.
The downfall of Yanukovych’s regime prompted Russia to move forces into Crimea, where pro-Moscow officials declared independence and hurriedly organised the referendum.