Crimea's pro-Moscow parliament has voted to join Russia. Meanwhile, European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels to decide how to respond to Russia's military incursion into the Ukrainian peninsula.
Crimea's parliament on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of becoming part of Russia, the RIA news agency reported, citing the text of the decision.
It was agreed "to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation," said the decision.
Grigoriy Ioffe, a member of the parliament's leadership, confirmed the vote to the AFP news agency.
"The parliament of Crimea has adopted a motion for Crimea to join Russia. It has asked the Russian president and parliament to consider this request," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday discussed Crimea's proposal with his Security Council, RIA quoted his spokesman as saying.
Crimea's vice prime minister, Rustam Termigalievon, the Ukrainian peninsula will vote on March 16 on whether or not to join the Russian Federation. According to Termigaliev, the vote would ask two questions.
"The first is: Are you for the inclusion of Crimea into the Russian Federation as a subject of the federation? The second: are you for the restoration of the constitution for Crimea of 1992?" Termiglaiev was quoted as saying by RIA.
Crimea, which is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and has a Russian-speaking majority, had belonged to Russia since the late 18th century until then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. The move was less significant at the time, as both Russia and Ukraine were republics in the Soviet Union.
EU leaders meet
At a gathering of EU nations in Brussels held Thursday to address the crisis in Crimea, European leaders weren't uniform on how to respond to Russia's action in Crimea. Upon arriving at the meeting, French President Francois Hollande told reporters there was a need for dialogue before turning to sanctions.
"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," Hollande said.
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the 28-member bloc should "discuss political sanctions against Russia" during Thursday's meeting. "That will send a very clear signal that we find [Russia's actions] unacceptable," she added.
The call was echoed by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who accused Russia of "trying to rewrite the borders of Europe after World War II."
But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte argued that any actual sanctions should be delayed "to give the route of de-escalation a chance."
Ahead of the Brussels meeting, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fueling tensions with the West. Kyiv wants a political solution, so "it depends on Russia [if] it is ready to fix this conflict… or is Russia reluctant and [wants] to increase tension, as they did in the past few hours," Yatsenyuk said after a meeting with European Parliament head Martin Schulz.
Yatsenyuk added that pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000, believed to be made up mostly of Russian soldiers, now control all access to the Crimean peninsula and have blockaded all Ukrainian military bases that have not yet surrendered.
On the sidelines of a conference in Rome on Libya, US Secretary of State John Kerry also held talks over Ukraine with his counterparts from Italy, France, Germany and Britain, an American diplomat told the press.
dr/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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