Kiev, Ukraine (CNN March 6,2014) — A Crimean parliament decision to hold a referendum on separation from Ukraine is an “illegitimate decision,” interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Thursday.
“Crimea was, is, and will be an integral part of Ukraine,” he said at a news conference.
Lawmakers in the Crimea region voted earlier in favor of leaving Ukraine for Russia, which already has the Black Sea peninsula under de facto control, and set a referendum on the move for 10 days’ time.
Citizens of Crimea will face a simple choice: Stay in Ukraine or join Russia.
It’s not clear how easily the region could split off if the referendum endorses the move.
Yatsenyuk, speaking in Brussels, Belgium — where EU leaders are meeting to discuss possible sanctions against Russia — said the referendum “has no legal grounds at all.”
“That’s why we argue that the Russian government should not support those who claim separatism in Ukraine.”
He also insisted that his country would pursue a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the crisis but would not be subordinate to Russia.
He urged Russia to pull back its forces from Crimea and engage diplomatically. “If they are ready to talk, we are — and we made it very clear,” he said.
In a move toward closer ties with Europe, Yatsenyuk said Ukraine is ready to sign an association agreement with the European Union. It was the decision by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych to drop this planned agreement that first sparked the popular protests that led to his downfall.