SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Partial election results released late Sunday showed Crimean voters overwhelmingly supporting a referendum measure that would see their region break away from Ukraine and join Russia.
With half the ballots counted, Mikhail Malyshev, head of the Crimea Election Commission, said in televised remarks that more than 95% of voters approved the option of annexation with Russia over a second option offered, which called for seeking more autonomy within Ukraine.
The referendum was widely denounced by the United States, much of Europe and Ukraine’s acting government, which came to power last month after protests drove pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich from power, as an illegal seizure of Ukraine’s territory.
“In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement earlier Sunday that called on the international community to “take concrete steps to impose costs” on Moscow.
The referendum was carried out under the watchful eyes of Russia troops and pro-Russia militia that seized control of much of the peninsula. But it was expected to pass, given that a majority of the region’s voters are Russian speakers widely viewed as preferring rule by Moscow rather than Kiev.
The U.S. and Europe are expected to respond to the measure’s passage with fresh sanctions imposed on top Russian officials. Those measures could come as soon as Monday, as European Union officials gather in Brussels to debate their options.
The Russians “know that there are costs to their action here. The costs are economic,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser at the White House, said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “The more they escalate, the longer this goes, the greater those costs will be.”
Times staff writer Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.