Ukraine Refuses to Bend on Crimea as Russia Vows to Accept Vote

Bloomberg

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, “I want to be very clear: Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine. No concessions. Full stop.”
Ukraine said it won’t compromise on the future of Crimea as lawmakers in Moscow pledged to accept the results of a vote on the Black Sea region joining Russia.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told reporters in Kiev today that the results of a planned March 16 referendum on Crimea becoming part of Russia won’t stand. Russia’s parliament is due to discuss a bill that would pave the way for the switch this month. Both houses vowed today to back the move, which has drawn rebukes from the European Union and the U.S.
“No one will recognize this referendum, except maybe North Korea, Syria, or Venezuela,” Yatsenyuk said. “I want to be very clear: Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine. No concessions. Full stop.”
Ukraine, a key transit nation for east-west energy supplies, is struggling to keep hold of Crimea after pro-Russian forces seized control of the peninsula in the wake of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster from the presidency. The standoff over the region, once part of Russia and home to its Black Sea Fleet, has prompted Western governments to hit President Vladimir Putin with sanctions as the crisis rekindles memories of the Cold War and rattles markets.
Former Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed under Yanukovych’s rule, said any referendum on Crimea would have to include all Ukrainians and can’t be conducted in the presence of Russian forces. The vote offers a choice between continued autonomy within Ukraine and joining Russia.
‘Kalashnikov’ pressure
“Today there are well-armed Russian troops,” she said at a conference in Dublin before going to Berlin for medical treatment. “I would like to ask whether one can have an open referendum under the Kalashnikov.”
As Putin heads to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to open the 2014 Paralympic Games, the EU and the U.S. are accusing Russia of being behind the separatist unrest in Crimea, a claim Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied again today. The West has urged Russia to pull back, and began yesterday to impose sanctions.
The U.S. banned visas for Russian officials and others it said were complicit in violating the sovereignty of the ex-Soviet republic of 45 million. U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order authorizing financial sanctions, while EU leaders halted trade and visa talks with Russia and threatened punitive economic measures.
The U.S. and its allies will keep increasing pressure “to impose a cost on Russia and those responsible for the situation in Crimea,” Obama said at the White House. Implementation will be flexible “based on Russia’s actions,” he said.
‘Additional measures’
If Russia doesn’t back down, European nations “will decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters yesterday. The U.S. and allies including Japan this week halted preparations for the Group of Eight summit planned for June in Sochi.
Putin and Obama hold differing views on the crisis, though U.S.-Russia relations shouldn’t be sacrificed, the Kremlin said in an e-mailed statement on the leaders’ conversation. Russia says the armed men who’ve seized critical infrastructure in Crimea are acting independently amid perceived threats to Russian speakers following the change of power in Kiev.
Yanukovych fled for Russia days after signing an EU-brokered peace accord to stem three months of anti-government protests that left at least 100 demonstrators and police dead. He says he was forced to leave amid threats to his life and claims to still be Ukraine’s true leader, a view Russia shares.
EU pact
The unrest was sparked by Yanukovych’s rejection of an EU integration pact in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia, which opposed the deal. The EU leaders agreed yesterday to accelerate the timetable to draw Ukraine closer to the 28-nation bloc, according to Van Rompuy.
As Ukraine’s economy feels the effects of the upheaval, and after Russia halted disbursement of its rescue package, the EU and the U.S have pledged financial aid.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, this week outlined an 11 billion-euro ($15 billion) package of loans and grants for the coming years tied to the government in Kiev agreeing on an International Monetary Fund loan. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to allow $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine sought by the Obama administration.
‘Major impact’
Russia’s economy, already suffering from currency depreciation and capital flight, now also faces “increased risks” as a result of the tensions in Ukraine, Fitch Ratings Ltd. said. The crisis has had “a major impact on the Russian economy and on the Ukrainian economy,” European Central Bank President Mario Draghi told reporters in Frankfurt yesterday.
The ruble weakened 0.6 percent today to 42.6813 against the central bank’s dollar-euro basket, while the Micex Index rose 1.4 percent to 1,357.25 in Moscow. About $55 billion was erased from the value of the nation’s equities on March 3 after Russian lawmakers approved troop deployments to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s international bonds due in June fell 0.5 percent to 92 cents on the dollar, increasing the yield 3 percentage points to 46.063 percent. The hryvnia rose 1.5 percent to 9.065 per dollar, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
In Crimea, lawmakers voted yesterday in a non-binding measure to become part of Russia if voters agree in the referendum. They also asked Putin to begin drafting procedures for making the province a part of the Russian Federation, the state-run Crimean Information Agency reported. The move would reverse the 1954 transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Russians, Tatars
People who identify themselves as ethnic Russians comprise 59 percent of Crimea’s population of about 2 million, with 24 percent Ukrainian and 12 percent Tatar, 2001 census data show.
Russia has 16,000 troops in Crimea, according to the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. Refat Chubarov, leader of the executive body of Crimea’s Tatar population, called yesterday for a United Nations peacekeeping mission to ease tensions. He told reporters that more than 23,000 Russian troops were blocking 10 Ukrainian garrisons on the peninsula.
The U.S. sent six F-15 fighter jets to Lithuania and will dispatch 12 additional F-16s to Poland, the two countries’ defense ministries said yesterday. The U.S. Navy sent the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun into the Black Sea in what it called a routine visit unrelated to events in Ukraine.

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