Ukraine Crisis Escalates as Lawmakers in Crimea Vote to Join Russia; Obama Says Move Is Illegal

(Photo:REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)Ukrainian police stand guard in front the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 27, 2014.

Lawmakers in Crimea sent Ukraine and the international community into a tizzy Thursday when they voted in favor of leaving Ukraine for Russia and will put the decision to a vote in 10 days. Ukraine, however, has declared that will not happen.

"Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine," said Ukrainian Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in a CNN report Thursday after calling the referendum "an illegitimate decision."

In a statement on the crisis Thursday, President Barack Obama said Russia's actions in Ukraine was a "violation of international law" and "the resolve of the United States and our allies and the international community will remain firm."

He also condemned the proposed referendum in Crimea as a machination of pro-Russian Crimean lawmakers and said it would be both a violation of the Ukrainian constitution and international law. He further noted that the U.S. and other countries have taken steps to impose costs on Russia for the Ukrainian crisis.

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President Barack Obama: Sanctions For Russia Over Ukraine

"This morning I signed an executive order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine or for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people," said Obama.

"According to my guidance, the State Department has also put in place restrictions on the travel of certain individuals and officials. These decisions continue our efforts to impose a cost on Russia and those responsible for the situation in Crimea. And they also give us the flexibility to adjust our response going forward based on Russia's actions," he said.

"We took these steps in close coordination with our European allies. I've spoken to several of our closest friends around the world and I'm pleased that our international unity is on display at this important moment."

He further explained that any discussion about a referendum in Crimea must include Ukraine's legitimate government. The U.S. recognizes the government installed a month ago following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. Vladimir Putin, however, does not recognize this government, sparking a potential fight over control of the Crimean region, a peninsula on the Black Sea.

Putin has insisted that he has a right to use military force in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly met face-to-face to quell the dispute but it appears those talks were unfruitful.

A draft statement circulated among EU nations Wednesday said that Russia's failure to "de-escalate" the crisis would have "serious consequences" without elaborating on what those consequences would be.

Crimea Votes to Join Russia
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