* 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 on the decision in 10 days' time 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 held an emergency summit groping for ways to
pressure Russia to back down and accept mediation.
U.S. President Barack Obama took the first steps to punish
Russians and Ukrainians involved in what he called "threatening
the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine", ordering
the freezing of their U.S. assets and a ban on travel to the
The names on the blacklist were not immediately made public
but a U.S. official said they did not include Russian President
The crisis in Ukraine began in November when Ukrainian
President Viktor Yanukovich, under Russian pressure, turned his
back on a 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.
The Crimean parliament voted unanimously on Thursday "to
enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject
of the Russian Federation".
The decision, which diplomats said could not have been made
without Putin's approval, raised the stakes in the most serious
east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War.
The vice premier of Crimea, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet
in Sevastopol, said a referendum on the status would take place
on March 16. All state property would be "nationalised", the
Russian rouble adopted and Ukrainian troops treated as occupiers
and forced to surrender or leave, he said.
A Crimean parliament official said voters in the region of
two million people 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?
Russian 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 threats to Russian citizens to
justify military action in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine.
A mission of 35 unarmed military observers from the
pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
was stopped from entering Crimea by unidentified men in military
fatigues when they travelled from the port of Odessa, Poland's
defence minister said.
FACTS ON THE GROUND
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 back
to their bases.
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 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.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said after meeting
EU leaders that Ukraine's armed forces would act if Russian
military intervention escalated any further into Ukrainian
territory. "We are ready to protect our country," he said.
Military experts say Kiev's small and underequipped forces
are no match for Moscow's superpower might.
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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had refused to
meet his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday, met U.S. Secretary
of State John Kerry in Rome, their third encounter in two days,
but said afterwards there was no agreement for
Earlier, Kerry discussed Ukraine with his colleagues from
Britain, Germany, Italy and France, which are reluctant to
impose sanctions, and informed them of U.S. plans to sanction
individuals and officials whose identities were not made public.
The EU said it had frozen the assets of ousted Ukrainian
president Yanukovich and 17 other officials suspected of human
rights violations and misuse of state funds.
The EU summit in Brussels however seemed unlikely to adopt
more than symbolic measures against Russia, 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 was mostly be dedicated to
displaying support for Ukraine's new pro-Western government,
with Yatseniuk in attendance even though Kiev is neither an EU
member nor a recognised candidate for membership.
The European Commission has announced aid 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 EU would condemn Russia's
so far bloodless seizure of Crimea and suspend talks with Moscow
on visa liberalisation and economic cooperation, while
threatening further measures if Putin does not accept mediation
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.
European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi said the crisis had
already had a major impact on the Russian and Ukrainian
economies, but little effect so far on the euro zone.
Russia kept the door ajar for more diplomacy on its own
terms, announcing on Thursday a meeting of former Soviet states,
including Ukraine, for April 4.
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.
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 barracks.
Outside Crimea, in eastern and southern cities that saw big
pro-Russian demonstrations, the tide of public opinion appears
however to be turning in favour of Kiev.
Ukrainian police cleared pro-Moscow demonstrators from the
regional parliament building in Donetsk, where pro-Kiev
demonstrations are now much larger than pro-Moscow ones in the
city, home town of ousted leader Yanukovich.