* Crimea parliament votes to join Russia, referendum March
* Divided EU set to warn, not sanction Russia at summit
* Moscow says OSCE, NATO efforts not helpful
* Kerry, Lavrov to meet again in Rome
* Rouble weakens despite central bank intervention
By Alissa de Carbonnel
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, March 6 Crimea's parliament
voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed
government set a referendum within 10 days on the decision in a
dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea
The sudden acceleration of moves to bring Crimea, which has
an ethnic Russian majority and has effectively been seized by
Russian forces, formally under Moscow's rule came as European
Union leaders gathered for an emergency summit to find ways to
pressure Russia to back down.
U.S. President Barack Obama took steps to punish those
involved in threatening the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Ukraine, ordering the freezing of their U.S. assets
and a ban on travel into the United States.
The U.S. Navy announced a guided-missile destroyer, the USS
Truxton, was heading to the Black Sea in what it said was a
long-planned training exercise and not a show of force.
The Crimean parliament voted unanimously "to enter into the
Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian
The vice premier of Crimea, home to Russia's Black Sea
military base in Sevastopol, said a referendum on the status
would take place on March 16. He said all state property would
be "nationalised", the Russian rouble could be adopted and
Ukrainian troops would be treated as occupiers and be forced to
surrender or leave.
The announcement, which diplomats said could not have been
made without Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval, raised
the stakes in the most serious east-west confrontation since the
end of the Cold War.
Russia stocks fell and the rouble weakened further after the
news. Moody's ratings agency said the stand-off was negative for
Russia's sovereign creditworthiness.
Russia said it would make it easier to give passports to
native Russian speakers who have lived in Russia or the former
Soviet Union. Putin has cited the threat to Russian citizens to
justify military action in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine .
Far from seeking a diplomatic way out of the crisis, Putin
appears to have chosen to create facts on the ground before the
West can agree on more than token action against him.
EU leaders had been set to warn but not sanction Russia over
its military intervention after Moscow rebuffed Western
diplomatic efforts to persuade it to pull forces in Crimea, with
a population of about 2 million, back to their bases. It was not
immediately clear what impact the Crimean moves would have.
French President Francois Hollande told reporters on arrival
at the summit: "There will be the strongest possible pressure on
Russia to begin lowering the tension and in the pressure there
is, of course, eventual recourse to sanctions."
The new Ukrainian government has declared the referendum
illegal and opened a criminal investigation against Crimean
Prime Minister Sergei Askyonov, who was appointed in a closed
session by the region's parliament last week. The Ukrainian
government does not recognise his authority or that of the
A Crimean parliament official said voters will be asked two
questions: should Crimea be part of the Russian Federation and
should Crimea return to an earlier constitution (1992) that gave
the region more autonomy?
"If there weren't constant threats from the current illegal
Ukrainian authorities, maybe we would have taken a different
path," deputy parliament speaker Sergei Tsekov told reporters
outside the parliament building in Crimea's main city of
"I think there was an annexation of Crimea by Ukraine, if we
are going to call things by their name. Because of this mood and
feeling we took the decision to join Russia. I think we will
feel much more comfortable there."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had refused to
meet his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday, had talks with
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.
Earlier, Kerry also met his counterparts from Britain,
Germany, Italy and France to discuss Ukraine and inform them of
U.S. plans to sanction individuals and officials.
The White House said the order was "a flexible tool that
will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved
in destabilising Ukraine, including the military intervention in
Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation
But the EU summit in Brussels seemed unlikely to adopt more
than symbolic measures against Europe's biggest gas supplier,
because neither industrial powerhouse Germany nor financial
centre Britain is keen to start down that road.
The short, informal EU summit will mostly be dedicated to
displaying support for Ukraine's new pro-Western government,
represented by Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who will attend
even though Kiev is neither an EU member nor a recognised
candidate for membership.
The European Commission has announced an aid package of up
to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) for Ukraine over the next
couple of years provided it reaches a deal with the
International Monetary Fund, entailing painful reforms like
ending gas subsidies.
Diplomats said that at most, the 28-nation EU would condemn
Russia's so far bloodless seizure of the Black Sea province and
suspend talks with Moscow on visa liberalisation and economic
cooperation, while threatening further measures if Putin does
not accept mediation efforts soon.
They were expected to hold back from tougher steps both in
hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough and out of fear of a
tit-for-tat trade war with Russia, a major economic partner of
France has a deal to sell warships to Russia that it is so
far not prepared to cancel, London's banks have profited from
facilitating Russian investment, and German companies have $22
billion invested in Russia.
The crisis began in November when Ukrainian President Viktor
Yanukovich, under strong Russian pressure, turned his back on a
far-reaching trade deal with the EU and accepted a $15 billion
bailout from Moscow. That prompted three months of street
protests leading to the overthrow of Yanukovich on Feb. 22.
Moscow denounced the events as an illegitimate coup and
refused to recognise the new Ukrainian authorities.
Russia kept the door ajar for more diplomacy on its own
terms, announcing on Thursday a meeting of former Soviet states
in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including
Ukraine, for April 4 and saying it would be preceded by contacts
between Russian and Ukrainian diplomats.
Lavrov said attempts by Western countries to take action
over the Ukraine crisis via democracy watchdog OSCE and the NATO
military alliance were not helpful.
After a day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris on Wednesday,
Lavrov refused to talk to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy
Deshchitsya, whose new government is not recognised by Moscow.
Asked if he had met his Ukrainian counterpart, Lavrov said:
"Who is that?"
He stuck to Putin's line - ridiculed by the West - that
Moscow does not command the troops without national insignia
which have taken control of Crimea, besieging Ukrainian forces,
and hence cannot order them back to bases.
Western diplomats said there was still hope that once Lavrov
had reported back to Putin, Russia would accept the idea of a
"contact group" involving both Moscow and Kiev as well as the
United States and European powers to seek a solution.
The EU said it has frozen the assets of ousted Ukrainian
president Yanukovich and 17 other officials, including former
prime minister Mykola Azarov, suspected of human rights
violations and misuse of state funds.
In an awkward coincidence as EU leaders were gathering in
Brussels, German Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar
Gabriel travelled to Moscow for talks with his Russian
counterpart and Putin.
Reflecting concern about how the long-planned trip might be
seen in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, Gabriel dropped at the
last minute plans to take German industrialists with him.
Germany has been accused in some quarters of soft-pedalling on
sanctions in the light of its close economic ties to Russia.
Outside of Crimea, in eastern and southern cities that saw
big pro-Russian demonstrations, the tide of public opinion
appears to be turning in favour of Kiev.
Ukrainian police cleared pro-Moscow demonstrators who had
been holed up in the regional parliament building in Donetsk and
raised the Ukrainian flag where the Russian one had mostly been
flying since Saturday.
Pro-Kiev demonstrations are now much larger than pro-Moscow
ones in the city, home town of ousted leader Yanukovich.
Putin has said Russia reserves the right to intervene
militarily in other areas of Ukraine if Russian interests or the
lives of Russians are in danger.
Dropping diplomatic niceties on Wednesday, the U.S. State
Department published a "fact sheet" entitled "President Putin's
Fiction: 10 False Claims about Ukraine."
"As Russia spins a false narrative to justify its illegal
actions in Ukraine, the world has not seen such startling
Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, 'The formula "two plus
two equals five" is not without its attractions,'" the State
Department said in the document.