After Russia vetoed the United Nations Security Council decision on Crimea, the residents of the controversial peninsula will begin to vote this morning (Sunday) in a referendum to transfer control of the Ukrainian territory into Russian hands.

Crimea votes in the referendum today.

Crimea votes in the referendum today. Photo Credit: Reuters/ Channel 2

Pro-Russian leaders in Crimea carried out the last preparations this morning for the referendum vote to be held today (Sunday) in the peninsula, in which control of the controversial Ukrainian territory is set to transferred to Russia, despite threats of sanctions issued by western nations.

As tensions between the United States and Russia grow over the Crimea issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke this morning with American Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone. In the conversation, Lavrov asserted that the referendum in Crimea is legitimate and legal according to international law. He added that the referendum constitutes “the first step in shaping the future of the region”.

Russia vetoed a decision yesterday (Saturday) in the United Nations Security Council according to which the referendum in Crimea will be considered illegitimate and that the council’s countries will not recognize the results. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense reported that Ukrainian aircraft and military companies diverted an attempt by Russian forces to invade a Ukrainian city close to Crimea.

The new leadership in Ukraine blames “agents of the Kremlin” for inciting violence in an area dominated by Russian speakers, calling on citizens of Ukraine not to respond to the provocations, which the leadership believes could be manipulated by the Russians to justify further incursions into the country.

Most Crimean residents are expected to support the annexation.

Most Crimean residents are expected to support the annexation. Photo Credit: Reuters/ Channel 2

The greatest crisis since the end of the Cold War

The vote today in Crimea, which Kiev and the west view as illegal, has awakened the worst diplomatic crisis between Russia and the United States since the end of the Cold War. The entire crisis began when the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, failed to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.

With the crisis comes a number of symbolic instances of violence. Two days ago, two individuals were killed in violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Putin in eastern Ukraine. In addition, thousands of soldiers and police are spread out around the Crimean capital of Simferopol in order to ensure that violence does not break out during the vote.

The Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov addressed the possibility that the western nations may issue sanctions against the Kremlin following the referendum in Crimea stating, “We must prepare ourselves for any risks, although it seems that the measures will be minimal”. He continued, “I don’t believe that there will be decisions that will significantly effect the flow of trade or influence any major projects”.

Photo Credit: AP/ Channel 2

“In Russia, I can make three times more than in Ukraine”

Most of the residents of Crimea, which number over a million, are excepted to support the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Despite promises made by the Russian government to the residents of Crimea, including economic support about 12 percent of the population is expected to sit out on today’s referendum.

For the majority of the voters in Crimea, the question of Russian control over the peninsula is not just political, but the imminent economic benefit to the region is also a large consideration for many residents. “In Russia, I can make three times more than what I make in Ukraine”, reported one resident to Reuters. “After I pay for rent, heat and food there is nothing left. What if I want to save money? What happens if I get sick?”

Human rights groups in Europe claim that the thousands of armed men who have taken over in Crimea are violent towards reporters and political activists in the peninsula. “The authorities in Crimea allow for illegal armed units to police the area and to commit crimes that are not reported”, reported a head of one of the human rights organizations to the Human Rights Watch.