Legal or not, Crimean referendum will shape Ukraine crisis

The Genoese fortress, in Sudak in Crimea

The Genoese fortress, in Sudak in Crimea

Washington (CNN) — To President Barack Obama and U.S. allies in Europe, Sunday’s secession referendum in Crimea is unconstitutional, illegal and a fraud because Russian troops have essentially taken over the southern Ukraine peninsula.

To Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is a chance for Crimean residents to decide if they want to realign their region with Moscow after the political strife in Ukraine that ousted the pro-Russian leader last month.

Whatever the outcome, the vote planned by Crimea’s regional parliament and endorsed by Russia’s government will further inflame the Ukrainian crisis as the United States and European Union seek a diplomatic solution while threatening diplomatic and political sanctions.

Here are some of the biggest questions about the issue, with a look at how key players are weighing in:

1) What is the Crimean referendum?

Voters in the autonomous Ukrainian region of about 2 million people will choose between asserting independence from the former Soviet republic or joining neighboring Russia. There is no option for the status quo — remaining a part of Ukraine.

Results are expected Monday and U.S. officials have made clear they expect Crimean voters to choose to become part of Russia.

The referendum follows the lightning chain of events in Ukraine in recent months that included increasingly violent protests against the government, the country’s pro-Russian President fleeing across the border, and then Russian troops seizing what amounts to military control of Crimea — where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based.

By unanimously backing the referendum, the Crimean parliament signaled the intentions of regional leaders as well as Russia to restore the territory to Moscow’s control.

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