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Crimea to vote on joining Russia: Moscow wields United Nations veto

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Crimea to vote on joining Russia: Moscow wields United Nations veto
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Reuters

KIEV, Ukraine — Pro-Russian leaders in Crimea made final preparations on Saturday for a referendum widely expected to transfer control of the Black Sea region from Ukraine to Moscow, despite an outcry and threat of sanctions from the West.

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Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that declared the referendum invalid, as Ukraine’s defense ministry scrambled aircraft and paratroopers to confront what it said was a Russian encroachment just beyond Crimea’s formal regional boundary.

Ukraine’s new rulers accused “Kremlin agents” of fomenting violence in the Russian-speaking east of the country. They urged people not to respond to provocations that Kiev fears Moscow may use to justify further incursions after its takeover of Crimea.

Russia issued a new statement saying it was ready to protect Ukrainians from nationalist militants who it said were threatening eastern cities.

Sunday’s vote in Crimea, dismissed as illegal by Kiev and Western governments, has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. It also marks a new peak in turmoil in Ukraine that goes back to November, when the now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovich, walked away from a trade deal with the European Union.

“This annexation ... goes beyond Ukraine. It concerns us all,” France’s U.N. ambassador said after the Security Council vote. U.S. President Barack Obama is sending Vice President Joe Biden with a message of reassurance to Poland, a former Soviet bloc state, and the Baltic states, which until 1991 were ruled by Moscow.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted there should be no new Cold War in an age of globalization and economic interdependence: “We hope with all our heart that both we and our partners have enough political wisdom and sense of political realism to avoid sliding into an even deeper confrontation.”

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer is extending exercises in the Black Sea. Along with NATO air patrols on Ukraine’s western border, such maneuvers aim to send signals of resolve.

Though the situation was calm in Crimea ahead of the vote, tensions remained high in eastern Ukraine, where two people were killed in Kharkiv late on Friday.

Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, whose election in a closed session of the regional parliament is not recognized by Kiev, said there were enough security personnel to ensure the poll would be safe.

“I think we have enough people — more than 10,000 in the self-defense forces, more than 5,000 in different units of the Interior Ministry and the security services of the Crimean Republic,” he told reporters.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian parliament voted to dissolve Crimea’s regional assembly, which has organized the referendum and backs union with Russia. But the move was symbolic, as Kiev has lost both political and military control of the peninsula.

On Kiev’s Independence Square or Maidan — heart of the revolt against the Moscow-backed Yanukovich — hundreds of people chanted “Crimea is Ukraine! Crimeans, we support you!”

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