RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 17, 2014

TODAY: Over 95% of Crimeans vote to join Russia; West condemns illegal vote, draws up sanctions; Russia vetoes U.N. Security Resolution on referendum; China stays neutral; Paralympics end; Kiselyov vaguely threatens U.S.; RWE to sell subsidiary to oligarchs.

Despite some boycotts, exit polls with 50% of votes counted showed that 95.7% of Crimeans voted for union with Russia yesterday at the widely criticised referendum, with an estimated turnout of 83%.  Both Europe and the U.S. say the referendum was illegal and are threatening sanctions; Putin says it complies with international laws and should be accepted.  Russia used its veto to block a U.N. Security Council resolution declaring the referendum invalid.  China does not agree with putting sanctions on Moscow, and has not commented on the referendum, although it is calling for calm in Ukraine.  The E.U. has drawn up an initial list – to be cut down – of 120 officials in Crimea and Russia to blacklist.  Many Crimeans who still remember when their territory was given to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 say the referendum means they are finally ‘going home; amongst Crimean Tartars, however, the move to Russia is not a popular one.  Prior to the vote, Russian forces allegedly seized a natural gas terminal just outside the border of Crimea.  Russian and Ukrainian sources are blaming each other’s governments for provoking a gunfight in Kharkiv last week.  Former British Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown says the Ukrainian crisis is a cover for a power grab in the Balkans, threatening the imminent break-up of Bosnia.

Russia’s six-week Paralympic Games have come to an end, with President Vladimir Putin lauding the transformational event over champagne, ‘triumphant in the midst of global condemnation’.  Kremlin-backed journalist Dmitry Kiselyov claimed that Russia ‘is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash’ on a weekly current affairs show.  The fact that Britain is flooded with Russian money will make it difficult for the U.K. government to oppose what The Guardian calls ‘Russian adventurism’.  Germany’s RWE has reached a preliminary agreement to sell its subsidiary RWE Dea to the Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and German Khan for $7 billion.

The Moscow Times has a summary of events relating to the Kremlin’s recent crackdown on independent media.  This New Republic piece does the same, pointing out that ‘this is all being done, according to various reports, without any consultation with anyone outside Putin’s shrinking inner circle of old KGB spooks’.  Masha Gessen ruminates on her émigré status.

PHOTO: Pro-Moscow crowds celebrated after voting in the Crimean capital Simferopol.