Russia backs Crimea vote, dismisses sanctions threat
MOSCOW (CNN) — Russia's parliament gave its defiant support Friday to Crimean lawmakers who want to see their region split from Ukraine and join Russia, saying no sanctions imposed by the United States or Europe will change its mind.
A delegation from the Crimean Parliament is in Moscow a day after its lawmakers voted unanimously to split from Ukraine, and said they'd put the decision to a public vote on March 16.
Crimea, an autonomous region in southern Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and strong cultural ties to Russia, has become the epicenter of a battle for influence between Moscow, Kiev and the West.
Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, told the Crimean delegation that it would "support and welcome" any decision made by the Crimean people to become a part of Russia.
"We have no rights to leave our people when there's a threat to them. None of the sanctions will be able to change our attitude," Matvienko said.
The delegation was greeted with applause in the lower house, where the speaker described the decision to hold the referendum as "dictated by the willingness to protect human rights and lives."
The interim Ukrainian government in Kiev, the European Union and the United States have a very different view of events.
Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk slammed the referendum as "an illegitimate decision," and insisted: "Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine."
International monitors will try again Friday to gain access to Crimea.
The team from the the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security bloc, was turned back by armed men at checkpoints Thursday.
But they told CNN's Matthew Chance, who is traveling with them from Kherson in southern Ukraine toward the Crimean peninsula, that they intend to be more assertive Friday as they seek to get in and assess the situation on the ground.
Asset freezes, visa bans
As they seek to put the diplomatic squeeze on Russia to pull back its forces from Crimea and negotiate with Kiev, European Union nations announced Thursday they will suspend bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters and have threatened travel bans, asset freezes and cancellation of a planned EU-Russia summit.
"Any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilize the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional and far reaching consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas," EU leaders said, having also threatened travels bans on certain Russians and the freezing of some assets.
The United States also has taken action. The State Department has imposed a visa ban on Russian and Ukrainian officials and others that it says are responsible for, or complicit in, threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Obama signed an executive order laying the groundwork for sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for the crisis.
Moscow has denounced the events that led to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster in late February as an illegitimate coup and has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian authorities. That has put Russia and Ukraine on a collision course over control of the Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea that has long ties to Russia and has thousands of Russian troops stationed there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted he has the right to use military force in Ukraine if necessary to protect ethnic Russians under threat in Crimea. But Ukrainian officials say no such threat exists and that Putin is using it as a pretext to control the region.
The EU and the United States also announced plans to freeze the assets of Yanukovych, who turned his back on a trade deal with the EU in favor of one with Russia.
The rejected trade deal prompted months of protests that culminated in February with bloody street clashes that left dozens dead and Yanukovych out of office.
Interpol said it is reviewing a request by Ukrainian authorities that would allow for the arrest of Yanukovych on charges of abuse of power and murder, an allegation tied to the death of protesters.
CNN's Laura Smith-Spark wrote this story from London and CNN's Alla Eshchenko reported from Moscow. CNN's Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.