(Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday that the "referendum," in which voters in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula allegedly supported joining Russia, will "never" be recognized and preparations were on to impose "additional costs" on Russia for its actions.
Of the 1.5 million eligible voters in the Crimean referendum Sunday, more than 80 percent came out to vote. Officials said a total of 95.5 percent of them supported joining Russia and leaving Ukraine, according to BBC.
Speaking to Putin, Obama said the referendum, which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention, will never be recognized by the United States and the international community, according to a White House release.
The referendum – the final results of which are expected on Monday – came weeks after Ukraine's parliament removed pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22. More than 82 people had died in three months of anti-government protests that began following Yanukovych administration's suspension of preparations for signing an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, in favor of closer economic relations with Russia.
Yanukovych soon fled to Russia, and ethnic Russian forces seized Crimea without any violence, a move that was harshly criticized with warnings by the U.S. and European nations. The Crimean peninsula, an autonomous republic in the southeastern region of Ukraine, was part of Russia until 1954.
After Sunday's vote, Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov told crowds celebrating in Simferopol's Lenin Square, "We are going home. Crimea is in Russia," according to CNN. Jubilant crowds used fireworks and fluttered Russian flags after the vote.
However, Obama told Putin Sunday that Russia's actions violated Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, "we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions."
U.S. and European Union sanctions are expected to be announced Monday, according to The Associated Press.
Obama said "a diplomatic resolution 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."
Concerns are not just about the Russian action in Crimea.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, expressing "strong concerns" about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, where Russian troops appeared Saturday, and about "continuing provocations" in cities in east Ukraine, according to the State Department.
Obama told Putin that there remains a clear path for resolving the crisis diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and the people of Ukraine. He also noted that the Ukrainian government continues to take concrete steps that would allow for the de-escalation of the crisis, particularly as it prepares for elections this Spring and undertakes constitutional reform. The U.S. president also urged Russia to support "the immediate deployment of international monitors to help prevent acts of violence by any groups."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has also denounced the referendum as a "mockery of proper democratic practice."
Hague said Russia must now face "economic and political consequences," BBC reports.
"Nothing in the way that the referendum has been conducted should convince anyone that it is a legitimate exercise," he was quoted as saying. "The referendum has taken place at 10 days' notice, without a proper campaign or public debate, with the political leaders of the country being unable to visit Crimea, and in the presence of many thousands of troops from a foreign country."
Any attempt by Russia to use the referendum as an excuse to annex Crimea will be "unacceptable," Hague added. "I call on Russia to enter into dialogue with Ukraine and with the international community to resolve this crisis through diplomacy and in accordance with international law, not to exacerbate it further through unilateral and provocative actions."