Members of Crimean Parliament have voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, taking the very step Ukraine's interim government has been fearing since tensions arose in the region. They have also called for a public referendum on the issue in less than two weeks.
The MPs said they would like "to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation," and await approval from Moscow for the request. The Crimean people, many of whom are Russian speaking or of Russian descent, will have a chance to vote on the motion on March 16. One member of parliament, Sergei Shuvainikov, explained to the Associated Press that "this is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev. We will decide our future for ourselves."
Crimean officials are also saying they plan to introduce the Russia rouble as the local currency and is even threatening to "nationalize" Ukrainian state-owned property.
According to Crimea's new leader Sergei Aksyono, more than 11,000 pro-Russia troops are currently occupying the region, controlling access to the peninsula and blocking military bases. Clashes have also continued throughout the region, as competing activists attempt to storm and re-storm government buildings.
Crimea's Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev said voters would be asked two questions on the referendum ballot: "Are you in favor of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation?" and "Are you in favor of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution?" The 1992 constitution declared Crimea a part of Ukraine, but with a semi-autonomous status. But leaders in Kiev contend that even if the move to join Russia is approved it would still be illegal, according to the BBC, which reports that Ukraine's interim Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta said "We're not working out what to do if Crimea joins the Russian Federation because we believe it's unconstitutional."
Things were otherwise going well for Ukraine, with NATO announcing that it would review relations with Russia and the EU offering Kiev $15 billion in aid yesterday and the EU is holding further meetings today to decide what types of sanctions it can use to punish Russia.
Finally, on Thursday morning, the White House announced that President Obama has signed an executive order that places sanctions on individuals who have "the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine." That would include visa restrictions and financial penalties, but the names of those who will be targeted will not be released.