Russia's President Vladimir Putin and the speakers of the country's upper and lower houses of parliament signed a deal Friday that formally concludes the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region to Russia. Catch up on what's been happening in Crimea this tumultuous week.
As Russian lawmakers finalized the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political elements of a trade pact with the European Union.
Ukraine says it will continue to fight for Crimea, but has also asked the United Nations to declare is a demilitarized zone. Ukraine has said it planned to evacuate military personnel and family members.
But on Wednesday, almost 300 armed pro-Russian supporters took over the naval base in Sevastopol, which had about 70 Ukraine naval officers inside -- a deadline set by Ukraine's government to release the officers passed without apparent consequences. And a day earlier, one member of the Ukrainian military was killed, another wounded and more captured when masked gunmen seized their base near the Crimean regional capital, Simferopol.
On Tuesday, the European Union and the United States slapped sanctions on Russian lawmakers and businessmen, targeting Putin's inner circle. Russia responded with its own list of sanctions against U.S. lawmakers and officials.
Tensions have been mounting in Crimea for weeks, but the situation really ramped up when Crimeans held a referendum Sunday on whether to break away from Ukraine. Preliminary results on whether the region should join Russia or become an independent state show overwhelming support for Russia. With 75% percent of the ballots counted, close to 96% of voters wanted to become part of that country, according to the Crimean Electoral Commission.
Even before the vote, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union called the referendum illegal. U.S. and EU officials announced sanctions on Russian officials and their allies in the region, which Russian-backed forces seized three weeks ago.
Crimea is home to 2 million people, most of them ethnic Russians. Moscow strongly backed Sunday's referendum, and Russian lawmakers have said they will welcome Crimea with open arms.
Members of the ethnic Ukrainian and Muslim Tatar minorities had said they would boycott the vote. Uncertainties stemming from a possible break from Ukraine have fueled rumors about a looming legal vacuum in the crisis-hit region, causing panic and confusion.
Many Crimeans hope the union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. Others saw the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country toward the European Union and away from Moscow's sway.
Some voters saw the vote as a way to return home. The Black Sea peninsula was part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. Ukraine was then part of the Soviet Union.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Sunday, according to the White House. "President Obama emphasized that the Crimean 'referendum,' which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognized by the United States and the international community," it said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Russian activities in Kherson in a phone call with Putin on Sunday, according to her office. She urged an increase in the presence of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, so they can quickly be sent to contested areas, especially in eastern Ukraine, and called on Putin to talk to the government in Kiev.
On Monday, lawmakers in Crimea approved a resolution that declared the Black Sea peninsula an independent, sovereign state. They then filed an appeal to join the Russian Federation.
Also on Monday, Russia proposed creating an international support group to mediate in the Ukraine crisis. Its Foreign Ministry said in a statement that this group would urge Ukraine to implement portions of a Feb. 21 peace deal and formulate a new constitution that would include Russian as an official language alongside Ukrainian, as well as set out broad powers for the country's regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that recognizes the independence of the Republic of Crimea, the Kremlin announced Monday night.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's interim president vowed Monday never to accept a Russian annexation of Crimea. Oleksandr Turchynov said his government would do "everything possible" to solve the crisis diplomatically, and he praised his citizens for refusing to respond to Russian provocations with violence. But he announced a partial mobilization of his country's armed forces and said Ukrainians "have to unite in one big family, which is ready to protect its home."
According to the Kremlin, Crimea is now officially became part of Russia after a signing ceremony Tuesday between Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Crimea and the mayor of the city of Sevastopol. Ukraine and the West do not agree -- several countries have said they don't recognize the referendum that led to the annexation as legitimate.
So far, the West has reacted with sanctions against individual Russians. European Union international policy chief Catherine Ashton announced sanctions against 21 people "responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine." She called the weekend vote "illegal" and "a clear breach of the Ukrainian Constitution," and she urged Russia not to follow up by annexing the territory.
Washington said its sanctions targeted Russian officials and lawmakers, as well as Crimea-based separatist leaders, with financial sanctions for undermining "democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine." Obama's order freezes any assets in the United States and bans travel for the 11 people named, including ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin will address a joint session of Russia's parliament on Crimea on Tuesday. Also, Russian lawmakers say they will discuss the future of Crimea on Friday. "All the necessary legislative decisions on the results of the referendum will be taken as soon as possible," said Sergey Neverov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Duma.
Crimean lawmakers have approved legislation to make the Russian ruble the official currency in Crimea alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia, according to a statement posted on the Crimean Parliament's website. The hryvnia remains an official currency until Jan. 1, 2016. Lawmakers also adopted a resolution stating that on March 30, Crimea will move to Moscow Standard Time.
Crimea's government will not persecute those who "remain loyal to the Ukrainian state" and will give Ukrainian soldiers the option to serve in the Crimean military or to serve in the Ukrainian army, Crimean government official Vladimir Konstantinov said.
On big question is what recent events in Crimea mean when it comes to transferring banks, public utilities and public transport from Ukraine to Russia in what would undoubtedly be a costly operation. Crimea is entirely integrated into Ukraine's mainland economy and infrastructure: Ninety percent of its water, 80% of its electricity and roughly 65% of its gas comes from the rest of country. It also depends heavily on the Ukrainian mainland to balance its books. About 70% of Crimea's $1.2 billion budget comes directly from Kiev.
Tension is also running high in parts of the Russian-speaking industrialized east of Ukraine near the border with Russia, with clashes between rival demonstrators. Thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators rallied beneath a towering statue of Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in Donetsk's main square, with chants of "Donetsk is a Russian city" ringing out as the protesters gathered in a show of support for the Crimean referendum and to demand their own.
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