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Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum within 10 days on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
The sudden acceleration of moves to formally bring the Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and has effectively been seized by Russian forces, under Moscow's rule came as European Union leaders gathered for an emergency summit to seek ways to pressure Russia to back down and accept mediation.
The Crimean parliament voted unanimously "to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation", the RIA news agency reported. Its vice premier said a referendum on the status would take place on March 16.
The announcements, which diplomats said could not have been made without Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval, raised the stakes in the most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War.
EU leaders had been set to warn but not sanction Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine after Moscow rebuffed Western diplomatic efforts to persuade it to pull forces in Crimea back to their bases. It was not immediately clear what impact the Crimean moves would have.
UN special envoy Robert Serry gestures as he leaves in a car in Simferopol March 5, 2014. Serry was forced to abandon a mission to Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region on Wednesday after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting "Russia! Russia!" (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)
The matter was discussed at a joint meeting of the Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) in Vienna on 4 March 2014.
The visit is taking place under Chapter III of the Vienna Document 2011, which allows for voluntary hosting of visits to dispel concerns about unusual military activities. Ukraine has requested all OSCE participating States to send military representatives from 5 to 12 March 2014, starting in Odessa. This is the first time this mechanism has been activated.
As of now, eighteen OSCE participating States have responded positively to the request sending up to two representatives each. Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States. One representative from the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre will also be participating. The military visit participants are on their way to Ukraine now.
OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier said: "It is my hope that this military visit will help to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. By providing an objective assessment of the facts on the ground, the OSCE will be better placed to foster a political solution to the current crisis through dialogue."
“Confidence-building and transparency are key elements of the OSCE approach to security, which seeks to foster openness and dialogue as the best way to resolve conflicts in our region," he added.
The Vienna Document 2011 is one of the main confidence-building measures developed by the OSCE. Under this document, all participating States are required to share information on their military forces, equipment and defence planning. The Document also provides for inspections and evaluation visits that can be conducted on the territory of any participating State that has armed forces.
Note to editors: Chapter III of the Vienna Document 2011 (full text see at http://www.osce.org/fsc/86597)
VOLUNTARY HOSTING OF VISITS TO DISPEL CONCERNS ABOUT MILITARY ACTIVITIES
(18) In order to help to dispel concerns about military activities in the zone of application for CSBMs, participating States are encouraged to invite other participating States to take part in visits to areas on the territory of the host State in which there may be cause for such concerns. Such invitations will be without prejudice to any action taken under paragraphs (16) to (16.3).
(18.1) States invited to participate in such visits will include those which are understood to have concerns. At the time invitations are issued, the host State will communicate to all other participating States its intention to conduct the visit, indicating the reasons for the visit, the area to be visited, the States invited and the general arrangements to be adopted.
(18.2) Arrangements for such visits, including the number of the representatives from other participating States to be invited, will be at the discretion of the host State, which will bear the in-country costs. However, the host State should take appropriate account of the need to ensure the effectiveness of the visit, the maximum amount of openness and transparency and the safety and security of the invited representatives. It should also take account, as far as practicable, of the wishes of visiting representatives as regards the itinerary of the visit. The host State and the States which provide visiting personnel may circulate joint or individual comments on the visit to all other participating States.
Russia's national flag (R) and Crimea's regional flag are seen on a building of Council of Ministers in Simferopol, March 5, 2014. Russia rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in Ukraine's Crimea region to their bases on Wednesday amid a day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine and averting the risk of war. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)
EU and NATO committees meet jointly to discuss UkraineThe European Union's Political and Security Committee (PSC) and NATO's North Atlantic Council (NAC) held a joint informal meeting today to discuss the situation in Ukraine, ahead of the meeting of EU heads of State or government tomorrow.The discussions underlined the seriousness of the crisis and showed the convergence of views in both organisations in upholding Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the need for a dialogue between Ukraine and Russia as well as de-escalating steps in view of a peaceful solution to the crisis in full respect of international law as laid down in bi-and multilateral commitments. Ambassadors had an exchange of views on the various dimensions of the crisis in Ukraine and the options for the response of the International Community.BackgroundThe PSC and the NAC are the bodies respectively of the EU and NATO at ambassador level responsible for monitoring the international situation.PSC-NAC meetings are an integral part of the continuous political dialogue between the EU and NATO, including the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements and informal meetings. They formally meet on EUFOR Althea, the operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina making use of NATO common assets and capabilities.
Robert Serry is taking a late flight out of Simferopol and will shortly return to Kiev to continue his mission, which was cut short by today's incident.