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Updated: Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:37:29 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Crimea crisis: U.S., EU freeze assets of Russian officials



U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the crisis in Ukraine from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014. Obama on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (© UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the crisis in Ukraine from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014. Obama on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3HFX5 Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the Cold War and the EU slapped travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people from Russia and Crimea linked to the push for the secession of Ukraine’s strategic Black Sea peninsula.

The sanctions came hours after Crimea's parliament declared the region an independent state, following its residents' overwhelming vote Sunday to break away from Ukraine and seek to join Russia.

Obama, speaking in Washington, said the U.S. stands firmly behind Ukraine and that he’s willing to “increase the cost” to Russia if it doesn’t de-escalate the situation.

“We're making it clear that there are consequences for their actions," Obama said.

In Brussels, the EU also voted to approve sanctions against Russia.

"We need to show solidarity with Ukraine and therefore Russia leaves us no choice," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Brussels.

"The 'Anschluss' of Crimea cannot rest without a response from the international community," he said, referring to Nazi Germany's forceful annexation of Austria.

Neither the U.S. nor EU recognizes the results of Crimea’s referendum on Sunday, calling it illegitimate and unconstitutional.

Obama said the sanctions are aimed directly at those trying to undermine Ukraine. Administration officials, speaking to reporters on a conference call on the condition they not be quoted by name, said the sanctions are meant to “hit close to home” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was one of the biggest names to be sanctioned, but also included in the list of names provided by the U.S. was Putin adviser Sergey Glazyev, deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov.

During his brief speech, Obama stressed that the government has the authority to go after officials in the Russian arms sector and those who support Russian cronies if the government doesn't pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

He’s calling on Russia to remove its soldiers from Ukraine, allow international observers into the country and begin a dialogue with the new interim Ukrainian government.  

U.S. will not recognize referendum result

Obama told Putin on Sunday the Crimean vote "would never be recognized" by the United States, as he and other top U.S. officials warned Moscow against making further military moves toward southern and eastern Ukraine.

In Simferopol, Crimea’s regional capital, crowds draped in Russian flags danced late into the night. Those same white, blue and red colours were immediately hung from government buildings, even though it’s still unclear how Russia plans to govern Crimea.

“They wasted no time,” the CBC’s Derek Stoffel reports from Simferopol.

“The Russian flag now flies proudly here and across Crimea.”

Nearly 97 per cent of voters supported joining Russia in the final count of Sunday's referendum results, a Crimean election chief said. Mikhail Malyshev said the final tally was 96.8 per cent in favour of leaving Ukraine.

The referendum has plunged East-West relations to lows not seen since the Cold War.

Putin has said he will respect the will of the people in Crimea.

"The results of the referendum in Crimea clearly showed that residents of Crimea see their future only as part of Russia," the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Sergei Neverov, was quoted as saying.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the vote was conducted under illegal Russian military occupation and its results are invalid. The United States and the European Union appear to share this view.

Harper says Canada is working with other countries on possible sanctions against Russia. Harper is travelling to Ukraine this Friday in a show of support for the new government in Kyiv.

Possible transitional period

Duma officials say the Black Sea peninsula can become a member of the Russian Federation under current legislation, specifically under a law "on the procedure for the adoption into the Russian Federation and education of new subjects of the Russian Federation" that was passed in 2001, Interfax said.

First Crimea's appeal to join Russia will be sent to Putin. If approved, Putin will then pass it to the upper and lower houses of parliament, which will work on a treaty to be signed between Russia and the new state.

Under the treaty, a transitional period could be set for the new subject to be integrated into Russia's economic, financial, credit and legal systems.

Following its signing, Russia's constitutional court should then verify the treaty. It should then be voted on by both houses of parliament — the Duma and the Federation Council.

"I do not think there will be any delays in considering these questions in either the State Duma or Federation Council. We are ready to pass all the required legal decisions as quickly as possible," the Federation Council's deputy speaker, Ilyas Umakhanov, told Rossiya-24 television.

Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Ukraine's southern Crimea region to join Russia "in the very near future", news agency Interfax cited its deputy speaker as saying.

Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula is also taking steps to integrate its financial system with Russia's — including adopting the ruble currency.

Russia will send Crimea 1 billion rubles, about $30 million, "in the coming days" to help it stabilize its financial situation, the Interfax news agency reported on Monday.

A separate Crimean decree named the Russian ruble as an official currency, though people there can continue using the Ukrainian hryvnia as well through 2015.

Worries in eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine has become the new area of concern. Russian forces have been massing near the border, and many are speculating it, too, could be taken over.

“Certainly that is the big worry,” Stoffel said.

Ukraine’s new government is in talks with Russia — “I think it’s fair to say they’re going to try and keep the tension down,” Stoffel reported — but it’s unclear when, or if, Russian troops will pull back.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s parliament passed a presidential order to mobilize over 20,000 volunteers with prior military experience. The reservists are set to join a 20,000-strong national guard, though Russia still has far more troops and military firepower.

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said mobilizing the soldiers is necessary to deal with Russia’s “continuing aggression.”

In Crimea, Stoffel reports that Ukrainian soldiers have been offered posts in the Russian military, but most have refused. Russia’s military dwarfs Ukraine's.

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