Vadim Ghirda, Associated Press
KIEV, Ukraine — Crimea's Parliament said Tuesday that if the public votes to become part of Russia, the peninsula will declare itself independent and propose becoming a Russian state. That could offer a way of de-escalating the standoff between Russia and the West.
The vote in Crimea's Parliament about Sunday's referendum could give Moscow the option of saying there is no need for Crimea to become part of Russia.
The dispute between Moscow and the West over Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Russian forces have secured control over the peninsula, but Ukraine's government and Western nations have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and strongly warned Russia against trying to annex Crimea.
The Crimean Parliament's declaration could put the bid to join Russia on hold, depending on the outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's bargaining with the West.
In Sunday's referendum, the public will be given two options: becoming part of Russia, or remaining in Ukraine with broader powers.
Crimea, where Russia maintains its Black Sea Fleet base, became the epicenter of tensions in Ukraine after President Viktor Yanukovych fled last month in the wake of months of protests and outbreaks of bloodshed.
Kiev-based political analyst Vadim Karasyov said the Crimean Parliament's move is "a message to the West that there is no talk about Russia incorporating Crimea." He said "It's a tranquilizer for everybody — for the West and for many in Ukraine who are panicking."
Karasyov speculated that Crimea could exist as a "quasi-legitimate" state, while Russia and the West negotiate.
After a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, some leaders in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia lobbied to join Russia, but their request was never granted.
Putin's "task now is to get a stake in the shareholding company called Ukraine. He believes that the West now has the majority stake and he doesn't even have a blocking package," Karasyov told the AP. "So Crimea is an attempt to get a blocking package."
Russia's Foreign Ministry later said in a statement that the Crimean parliament's action was legitimate. "Russia will respect the results of Crimea's referendum that will be monitored by OSCE observers," the ministry said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone Tuesday at Washington's initiative.
"From the Russian side, the necessity was underlined of taking into complete account the interests of all Ukrainians and all regions in the search for an exit from the crisis and also the respect of the right of the residents of Crimea to determine their fate on their own in accordance with the norms of international law," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, rejected proposals to draft new legislation to facilitate Crimea's accession into Russia.
Zheleznyak wouldn't elaborate, and it wasn't clear whether his statement signaled the Kremlin's willingness to relax tensions or was part of legal maneuvering over the annexation plans.
If Putin can't negotiate a solution to the crisis with the West, the Crimean Parliament's move could also facilitate accession into Russia. Under current law, Russia needs to reach agreement with a foreign state to incorporate part of it. Crimea's declaration of independence could solve that, though the West made it clear it would not recognize the annexation.
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