“If the decision is made, then (Crimea) will become an absolutely equal subject of the Russian Federation,” Matvienko said during a visit from the chairman of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov.
She spoke of mistreatment of Russian-speaking residents in Ukraine’s east and south, which has been Moscow’s primary argument for possible intervention.
The Russian parliament, meanwhile, scrambled to make it easier for Crimea to join Russia. Russia’s constitution allows the country to annex territory only by an agreement “initiated... by the given foreign government.” That would entail signing an agreement with the new authorities in Kiev, whom Moscow doesn’t recognize.
New legislation would sidestep that requirement, according to members of parliament, who initially said a new bill could be passed as soon as next week, but have since indicated that they will wait until after the referendum.
On the other side of Red Square from the parliament building, 65,000 people gathered at a Kremlin-organized rally in support of Crimea.
“We always knew that Russia would not abandon us,” Konstantinov shouted from the stage. He also called on Moscow not to forget other Russia-leaning regions in Ukraine.
“We must not leave the Ukrainian people at the mercy of those Nazi bandits,” he said, referring to the new government in Kiev.
The referendum has been denounced by Ukraine’s fledgling new government in Kiev and President Obama, who warned it would violate international law. The U.S. moved Thursday to impose its first sanctions on Russians involved in the military occupation of Crimea.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that sanctions over Russian actions in Crimea could backfire, the ministry said in a statement. In a telephone conversation, Lavrov urged the U.S. not to take “hasty, poorly thought-out steps that could harm Russian-U.S. relations, especially concerning sanctions, which would unavoidably boomerang on the U.S. itself,” the statement said.