Members of Parliament in the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea on Thursday asked the Russian government to allow the region to become part of the Russian Federation. According to the parliament, a referendum [RIA Novosti report] to approve the decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia or restore the 1992 Crimean Constitution [text], which would maintain the region as an autonomous republic within Ukraine, will be held on March 16. The ballots for the referendum in the majority ethnic Russian region will be printed in the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar languages. Full independence for Crimea is not an option. Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk [BBC backgrounder] condemned [BBC report] the referendum before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels Thursday. The interim Ukrainian government in Kiev does not recognize the new Crimean government which was sworn in at an emergency session last week, and has called the vote to join the Russian Federation unconstitutional.
The ousting of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in late February has led to escalating tensions [BBC timeline] between Ukraine and Russia, culminating in the de facto seizure of the Crimean peninsula by pro-Russian and Russian forces. Earlier this month during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama condemned [JURIST report] Russia's violation of Ukrainian sovereignty after Russian forces had taken up positions in Ukraine. Earlier that day, Russian lawmakers unanimously authorized [LAT report] the use of armed forces to protect their national interests and ethnic Russians in Ukraine, after Russian troops had already taken positions in Crimea. At the end of February the Ukraine interim general prosecutor reported [JURIST report] that an international arrest warrant has been requested for Yanukovich, implicating him in the "mass murder" of civilians during the recent Kiev protests.