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Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama on Sunday that a Crimean referendum to break away from Ukraine was legal according to international law, according to a statement from Kremlin — and preliminary poll results showed a vast majority of voters in the autonomous region are in favor of joining Russia.
With three-quarters of ballots counted, an overwhelming 95.7 percent voted to become a part of Russia, while just 3 percent voted to remain part of Ukraine, said Mikhail Malyshev, chairman of the Crimean Election Committee.
Turnout was 83 percent, he added — a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.
Still, Western powers and leaders in Kiev denounced it as a sham.
Underlining how Moscow's military takeover of the peninsula two weeks ago has driven Russia and the West into a crisis reminiscent of the hottest days of the Cold War, Putin and Obama spoke by telephone after the vote and, according to Russian officials, the Russian and U.S. presidents agreed on a need to cooperate to stabilize Ukraine.
Putin told Obama that Crimean citizens are “guaranteed the possibility of free will and self-determination,” the Kremlin said.
"Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilize the situation and terrorize civilians, including the Russian-speaking population," the Kremlin said.
"This referendum is contrary to Ukraine's constitution," a White House spokesman said in a statement. "The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law."
“No decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the statement. “Russia’s actions are dangerous and destabilizing,” Carney added.
In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk threatened dire consequences for the Crimean politicians who had called the vote, saying separatist "ringleaders" wanted to destroy Ukrainian independence "under the cover of Russian troops."