World

Crimea's parliament votes to split from Ukraine before referendum

Simferopol: Crimea’s pro-Russian parliamentarians voted behind closed doors on a declaration of intention to favour independence from Ukraine five days before a much-criticised referendum is due to be held on whether the region will become part of Russia.

Ukraine interim leaders create national guard

Ukraine's acting government condemns Russia's drive "toward the destruction" of global security and creates a new national guard.

Condemned by the new government in Kiev, the Crimean parliament said a ''yes'' vote in Sunday’s referendum would pave the way for Crimea to seek to join the Russian Federation.

Referring to Kosovo’s separation from Serbia, the declaration argued that a unilateral declaration of independence is ''not illegal and does not violate any norms of international law''.

A convoy of Russian armoured personnel carriers and large trucks full of troops was spotted travelling north towards the ...
A convoy of Russian armoured personnel carriers and large trucks full of troops was spotted travelling north towards the Crimean border with Western Ukraine. Photo: Kate Geraghty

The increasingly tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine has become a battle of ultimatums - the Kiev government announced it had given the regional assembly in Crimea until Wednesday to abandon its hastily called secession referendum.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian forces took over the key regional airport at Simferopol, closing the airspace to all incoming and outgoing flights except those to and from Moscow.

A commercial flight from Kiev to Simferopol was turned back before it could land, passengers said, while pro-Russian ''self-defence'' forces and Cossacks appeared to be in control of the air-traffic control tower.

Long lines began forming at banks around Simferopol on Tuesday as Crimeans worried about a devaluation in the Ukrainian currency and the deteriorating security situation sought to withdraw savings before the referendum.

The troop convoy moves through the  streets of Simferopol.
The troop convoy moves through the streets of Simferopol. Photo: Kate Geraghty

All the while the movement of Russian troops throughout Crimea - including through its two largest cities Simferopol and Sevastopol - continued.

A convoy of Russian armoured personnel carriers and large trucks full of troops was travelling north towards the Crimean border with western Ukraine, and there were further troop movements reported on the Kerch to Fedosia road in the east of Crimea near the Russian border.

Pro-Russian “self-defence” forces and Cossacks  in front of a building that joins the control tower at Simferopol airport.
Pro-Russian “self-defence” forces and Cossacks in front of a building that joins the control tower at Simferopol airport. Photo: Kate Geraghty

In Russia, Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych blamed the new government in Kiev, which he described as a gang of ''fascists and ultra-nationalists'', for provoking Crimea to secede by refusing to protect citizens from violence.

''The cities are being patrolled by masked gunmen,'' Mr Yanukovych said. ''This new government is firing officers from the army, those officers who don’t want lawlessness committed against civilians. They want civil war to break out.''

A protester with a caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a pro-Ukrainian rally in the Crimean city of Simferopol.
A protester with a caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a pro-Ukrainian rally in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Photo: Kate Geraghty

He insisted he was still the legal president of Ukraine, as he did the last time he appeared in public on February 28 in Russia, after fleeing Ukraine.

Russia has refused to bow to criticism from the West over its military occupation of Crimea, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicating he was preparing a proposal to resolve the crisis and had been willing to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday.

At the key regional airport at Simferopol airspace was closed to all incoming and outgoing flights except those to and ...
At the key regional airport at Simferopol airspace was closed to all incoming and outgoing flights except those to and from Moscow. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Mr Kerry cancelled his visit to Moscow, and US State Department officials blamed Russia for cruelling prospects for a negotiated solution that involved direct talks between Russia and Ukraine.