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Russia defends Crimea's decision to hold referendum

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Russia has defended a decision by Ukraine’s Crimean authorities to hold a referendum as the standoff between Moscow and the West over the crisis-hit Eastern European country continues.

Speaking by telephone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said steps taken by authorities in Crimea were “based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The Russian president also drew the attention of his interlocutors to the lack of any action by the present authorities in Kiev to limit the rampant behavior of ultra-nationalists and radical forces in the capital and in many regions,” the statement added.

Putin also told the British prime minister that he wants a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

A No 10 spokesperson said the Russian president told Cameron that he wants a political solution to the crisis.

“The prime minister called President Putin this morning to urge him to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between the governments of Russia and Ukraine. The PM made clear that we, along with our European and American partners, want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea,” the spokesperson said of the prime minister’s call with Putin.

“President Putin agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine. He said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that he would discuss the proposals on the contact group with Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov tomorrow [Monday],” the spokesperson added.

Merkel told the Russian president that she considers a planned referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia as “illegal,” saying it violates Ukraine’s constitution.

The Kremlin said that despite differences over Ukraine, “they (Putin, Merkel, and Cameron) expressed a common interest in de-escalation of the tensions and normalization of the situation as soon as possible.”

Crimean lawmakers voted on Thursday in favor of joining the neighboring Russia. Local Crimean administration is expected to hold a referendum on March 16 on the region’s separation from Ukraine.

However, the interim government in Kiev denounced the move, describing the planned vote as “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate”.

On Saturday, the Crimean prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, reiterated that the referendum would go ahead as planned.

Aksyonov pointed out that “no one” is capable of cancelling the referendum on union with Russia.

Ukraine has been gripped by a political crisis since November 2013, when the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, refrained from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.


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