Crimeans Choose to Join Russia in Disputed Vote, Exit Poll Shows

Russia Supporter in Simferopol
A man waves the Soviet Union flag near Simferopol's Lenin Square in Ukraine, on March 16, 2014. Photographer: Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

A majority of Crimeans chose to join Russia in a disputed referendum, exit polls showed, deepening the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

A total of 93 percent voted today in favor of leaving Ukraine to become part of Russia, Ria Novosti reported, citing exit polls from the vote in the Black Sea peninsula. The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the European Union and the U.S. all consider the referendum illegal. About 1.5 million Crimean voters were eligible to take part, according to the region’s prime minister.

As the West threatens to ratchet up sanctions if Russia doesn’t back down from annexing Crimea, Russian has deployed about 60,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, the government in Kiev said. Ukraine closed border crossings to Russia and will mobilize as many as 15,000 volunteers in the next 15 days to defend the nation, officials said today.

“We’re on the brink of a new cold war where Europe’s view of Russia as a benign nation that could be integrated economically and political has become history,” Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said by phone.