The White House Imposes Sanctions On Russia, After Crimea Votes To Leave Ukraine And Become Part Of Federation

The White House dramatically declared sanctions on Russia Thursday, following a vote that saw Crimea lawmakers ask to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. The Obama administration has imposed visa restrictions on those who are "threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," and President Obama has signed an Executive Order to impose sanctions on Russian figures who undermine the democratic process in Ukraine.

The Executive Order has been called a "flexible tool," according to to a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. It directly addresses the Russians who have been involved in destabilizing Ukraine and participating in military intervention in Crimea. If necessary, the White House added, the United States will consider additional sanctions. Additionally, America has called on Putin and co to take this opportunity to resolve the crisis through dialogue with the Ukraine government.

The White House decision came after lawmakers in Crimea voted Thursday in favor of becoming part of Russia. Lawmakers in Crimea asked for a referendum (a popular vote) on March 16 to endorse the decision. That question would ask the Crimean public: Do you want an autonomous republic of Crimea within the Russian Federation; or do you want an autonomous republic of Crimea within Ukraine?

In favor of holding that referendum, lawmakers voted unanimously — 78-0, with eight abstentions. If it happens, local voters will also be allowed a chance to participate. The Crimean peninsula houses a population that, for the most part, culturally identifies as Russian and speaks the language.

One member of the legislature, Sergei Shuvainikov, told the Associated Press, "This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev. We will decide our future ourselves."

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Addressing the Crimean authorities who called for the move to become part of Russia, Ukraine's Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said they were "totally illegitimate, both the parliament and the government," according to the Daily Telegraph. "They are forced to work under the barrel of a gun and all their decisions are dictated by fear and are illegal."

Even news anchors are speaking out against Russia, with one anchor working for a Russian news agency quitting her job during a live newscast Wednesday, after openly criticizing the country's "whitewashing" of Putin's actions.

The proposed referendum comes as international leaders hold emergency talks to address the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis. During a summit Thursday, the European Union declared it stood by Ukraine and was committed "to provide it with strong financial backing."

On Wednesday, a top EU official announced that the EU will offer Ukraine an aid package worth $15 billion over the next two years to help the country get back on its feet.

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The EU also agreed to impose sanctions against ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, including freezing his assets, along with the asserts of 16 other senior officials. The decision targets those who have been identified as misappropriating state funds and human-rights violations, according to the Official Journal of the European Union.