A man fixes the Crimean flag near Simferopol on Monday. Government buildings are flying both the Russian and Crimean flags after almost 97 per cent of people voted to join Russia instead of staying as part of Ukraine. Spencer Platt/Getty
Crimea's regional parliament has declared the region an independent state, after its residents voted overwhelmingly to break off from Ukraine and seek to join Russia, news agencies reported.
Sunday's referendum is not recognized by the West, and the United States and the European Union are preparing sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.
A delegation of Crimean lawmakers is set to travel to Moscow Monday for negotiations on how to proceed further. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is just a matter of time.
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.
Russian President Vladimir 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.