Referendum on Crimea Split: What Happens Next?

The Crimean parliament voted Thursday to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, dramatically escalating tensions in the region and raising questions about the legality of the move. Crimea’s Moscow-backed government set a national referendum on the issue for March 16 and Russia's Duma is considering a bill that would allow it to annex the Crimean Peninsula, which is very likely to be passed, according to Masha Lipman of Carnegie Center. But the annexation could violate existing agreements on Ukraine's sovereignty as well as international laws that make it hard for independence-minded regions to split away and join other countries. President Barack Obama said that the proposed referendum "would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.” But, though Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said a referendum would have "no legal grounds at all," there is actual precedent for the decision based on a 1988 law that allowed for self-determination for Soviet republics, including Ukraine.

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