Lawmakers in the embattled Ukrainian region of Crimea have voted to join Russia, in a move likely to further escalate tensions over the peninsula.
Thursday’s vote by the Moscow-backed Crimean parliament comes as European Union leaders are holding an emergency summit in Brussels to discuss how to get Russia to back down from its military incursion into Crimea. U.S. lawmakers are also meeting Thursday to discuss potential economic sanctions against Russia.
Russia has denied that it has sent troops to Crimea in addition to those already stationed there as part of its Black Sea fleet, a claim challenged both by the West and Ukraine’s new leadership in Kyiv.
Commenting on the development, a senior U.S. official said any decisions about the future of Crimea must involve the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.
Ukraine’s new prime minster, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has said the referendum on Crimea’s status is “illegitimate” and has “no legal grounds.”
Ukraine to defend itself
Ukraine’s armed forces will act if Russian military intervention escalates any further into Ukraine’s territory, Yatsenyuk told a news conference on Thursday.
“In case of further escalation and military intervention into the Ukrainian territory by foreign forces, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian military will act in accordance with the constitution and laws,” Yatsenyuk said in Brussels.
“We are ready to protect our country,” he said.
Ukrainian forces have so far not responded to the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula. But this could change if the Russian intervention escalated, he said.
Yatsenyuk, who came to Brussels to discuss the crisis with the leaders of the 28 countries of the European Union, said the talks with EU leaders were only about political and peaceful means of resolving the conflict.