European Union foreign ministers will meet today to consider sanctions against Moscow as the West bitterly denounced Crimea’s vote to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.
The United States and the EU last night said they would not recognise the result of a referendum which they regard as “illegitimate” and a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
Following the overwhelming vote in favour of joining Russia, Crimea’s pro-Russian prime minister Sergey Aksyonov said the peninsula’s parliament would formally apply to Moscow to be annexed.
Crimean lawmakers are expected to fly to the Russian capital later today to open talks.
With almost 60% of the population of the Crimea ethnically Russian and many in the minority Ukrainian and Tartar communities boycotting the referendum, the result was widely considered a foregone conclusion.
There are fears that Russian president Vladimir Putin will deploy similar tactics to mount further incursions into the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Moscow – which is widely held to have orchestrated events – must face “economic and political consequences” for its violation of international norms.
EU ministers meeting in Brussels will consider an escalating range of measures – including asset freezes and travel bans – in line with the phased approach set out at a summit earlier this month.
Arriving in the Belgian capital last night, Mr Hague said the international community could not accept the outcome of a referendum held in the presence of thousands of Russian troops.
“It is a mockery of proper democratic practice,” he said.
With reports of more disturbances involving pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk, he warned the Kremlin against any further “provocative actions” or military moves into Ukrainian territory.
“Any attempt by the Russian Federation to use the referendum as an excuse to annex the Crimea, or to take further action on Ukrainian territory, would be unacceptable,” he said.
His comments were echoed by the White House – currently preparing its own sanctions – which warned Russia that it faced “increasing costs” as a result of its actions.
“Russia’s actions are dangerous and destabilising,” a White House statement said.
“In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another.”