Crimeans vote in referendum for union with Russia
Russian state media said Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia today, as Kiev accused Moscow of pouring forces into the peninsula and warned separatist leaders "the ground will burn under their feet".
With over half the votes counted, 95.5 percent had chosen the option of annexation by Moscow, the head of the referendum commission, Mikhail Malyshev, said two hours after polls closed. Turnout was 83 percent, he added - a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.
Western powers and leaders in Kiev denounced it as a sham.
Underlining how Moscow's military takeover of the peninsula two weeks ago has driven Russia and the West into a crisis with echoes of the Cold War, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama spoke by telephone and, according to the Kremlin, the Russian and US presidents agreed on a need to cooperate to stabilise Ukraine.
"This referendum is contrary to Ukraine's constitution," a White House spokesman said. "The international community will not recognise the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law."
The Kremlin said Putin told Obama the referendum was legitimate and he expressed concern about the Ukrainian government's failure to stamp out violence against Russian speakers in the country.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilise the situation and terrorise civilians, including the Russian-speaking population," the Kremlin said.
It said Putin suggested European monitors should be sent to all parts of Ukraine because of the violence.
Kiev said Moscow's build-up of forces in the Black Sea peninsula was in "crude violation" of an international treaty, and announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly-created National Guard.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow that Washington would not accept the outcome of the vote in the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine by Soviet rulers only 60 years ago.
The White House also warned Moscow to expect sanctions while foreign ministers from the European Union, which has major trade ties with Russia, will decide on possible similar action in Brussels on Monday.
But Putin rejected Western accusations that the referendum was illegal, saying it respected the will of the Crimean people, while his foreign ministry said it had agreed with the United States to seek a solution to the crisis through constitutional reform.