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Officials start counting votes of today's referendum in the Crimean capital of Simferopol Officials count votes of today's referendum in the Crimean capital of Simferopol March 16, 2014. Russian state media said Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia on Sunday, as Kiev accused Moscow of pouring forces into the peninsula and warned separatist leaders "the ground will burn under their feet". (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)
Arriving in Brussels for the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Hague said that any Russian attempt to use referendum result to annex Crimea "would be unacceptable"
Nothing in the way that the referendum has been conducted should convince anyone that it is a legitimate exercise.
I condemn the fact that this referendum has taken place, in breach of the Ukrainian constitution and in defiance of calls by the international community for restraint.
The referendum has taken place at ten days' notice, without a proper campaign or public debate, with the political leaders of the country being unable to visit Crimea, and in the presence of many thousands of troops from a foreign country. It is a mockery of proper democratic practice.
The UK does not recognise the referendum or its outcome, in common with the majority of the international community. At the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers tomorrow we believe measures must be adopted that send a strong signal to Russia that this challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia will bring economic and political consequences.
Furthermore, any attempt by the Russian Federation to use the referendum as an excuse to annex the Crimea, or to take further action on Ukrainian territory, would be unacceptable.
I call on Russia to enter into dialogue with Ukraine and with the international community to resolve this crisis through diplomacy and in accordance with international law, not to exacerbate it further through unilateral and provocative actions.
During a phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed that the United States considers the ongoing referendum illegal under Ukrainian law and restated that the United States will not recognize the outcome. He raised strong concerns about the Russian military activities in Kherson oblast yesterday and about the continuing provocations in eastern cities in Ukraine. Secretary Kerry also called the Foreign Minister's attention to actions taken by the government of Ukraine to arrest those responsible for violence in Kharkiv and steps taken to implement the demobilization and disarmament of irregular forces.
Further to discussions that the United States has had with Russia, our European partners and the government of Ukraine, Secretary Kerry also drew attention to the broad multi-party constitutional reform process already underway in the Ukrainian Rada. He urged Russia to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralization through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities. The Secretary made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base, and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement.
The European Union is taking steps to increase sanctions against Russia over what many believe is a planned annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, as Moscow has changed from a wary partner to a diplomatic adversary in the space of a few months.
Sunday's referendum in Crimea on secession has been called illegal by the EU and the U.S., and EU foreign ministers will decide on Monday whether to impose asset freeze and visa sanctions and, if so, who to target.
EU diplomats were working feverishly over the weekend to set up a list of Russian and Moscow-leaning officials from Ukraine who have been involved in pushing for the southern peninsula's secession and possible annexation. Diplomats said member states arrived at weekend talks with different suggestions, so a common list could be drawn up for Monday's meeting of the 28 foreign ministers to make a final decision.
"There must be a firm and united response" at the meeting, said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "The time has come for tougher restrictive measures to be adopted."
They would likely include military officials who ordered Ukrainian troops to leave their barracks in Crimea and others who were responsible for breakaway actions there. On the other hand, diplomats said they would shy away from economic operators at the moment.
Depending on developments in Moscow and Ukraine, further sanctions could follow during a two-day summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday.
"We will be — I am quite certain — ready for Monday morning. This will be discussed by ministers in order to reach a decision on that second stage of sanctions," a senior EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
People stand under a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin during a pro-Russia protest in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, March 15, 2014. Ukraine accused "Kremlin agents" on Saturday of fomenting deadly violence in Russian-speaking cities and urged people not to rise to provocations its new leaders fear Moscow may use to justify a further invasion after its takeover of Crimea. The flag in the background is the regional Crimean flag. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
UDAR (Punch) party head Vitaly Klitschko speaks to Ukrainian soldiers during a military exercise near Zhytomyr March 14, 2014. The United States and Russia found no middle ground on the Ukraine crisis on Friday, with the Russians saying they would respect an independence referendum in Crimea and the Americans vowing to impose sanctions if they do. (Andrii Skakodub/Reuters)