SIMFEROPOL — Crimea’s pro-Moscow leader Sergiy Aksyonov on Monday said 96.6 percent of voters casting ballots in a weekend poll chose to break off from Ukraine and join Russia.
“Final results of the referendum — 96.6 percent in favor!” he tweeted, a day after the disputed poll which is only recognized by Russia and which has sparked an international diplomatic crisis.
Crimea’s regional assembly is expected to meet Monday to apply to merge with Russia, a process that could take months and is mired in uncertainty for a region that remains heavily dependent on the Ukraine mainland.
There was sharp international condemnation of the vote, which could see the most radical redrawing of the map of Europe since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
The European Union said the referendum was “illegal and illegitimate” and its outcome would not be recognized.
In Brussels on Monday, European foreign ministers are expected to unfurl sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes against leading figures in Moscow. However, members of the Russian government are not expected to be affected.
US President Barack Obama phoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday and told him the vote “under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognized by the United States and the international community.”
Obama threatened “additional costs” for Moscow after the United States last week imposed visa bans targeting those blamed for threatening the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Russian media on Monday hailed the results, even as the lower house of the Russian parliament has announced it would begin the process of annexing the peninsula.
“Crimea is returning to Russia,” said pro-government mass circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
“Crimea is divorcing Ukraine,” said the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.
“Someone may not like it but we are happy,” Izvestia newspaper quoted one voter as saying on its front page, next to a picture of smiling and clapping Crimeans.
“Yesterday Crimea made its choice — it wants to be part of Russia,” said Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper.
The West and Kiev authorities have condemned the referendum, which was carried out with over 20,000 Russian troops in the strategic peninsula, as illegal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the residents of Crimea — which has been home to Moscow’s Black Sea fleet since the late 18th century and which was transferred to Ukraine only in 1954 by a Soviet leader — have a right to self-determination.
Top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta appeared to be the only dissenting voice, publishing on its front page a picture of thousands of demonstrators who rallied in Moscow at the weekend against Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
The Kremlin sent troops to the peninsula after three months of anti-government protests in Ukraine saw the country’s pro-Moscow president ousted and replaced with a Western-leaning team.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.