SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Crimea's Deputy Prime Minister said Sunday that the weekend referendum there may mark the beginning of similar events in mainland Ukraine, calling the vote in Crimea a "first step."
"I think second step will be east Ukraine," the Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said during an interview with NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel.
Speaking outside of Crimea's parliament building Sunday afternoon as voting continued in the controversial referendum, Temirgaliev said eastern Ukraine would eventually become part of Russia.
"In Donbass. In Donetsk. In Kharkiv and Lugansk areas of Ukraine, it is the same situation," Termigaliev said, referring to areas in eastern Ukraine.
"I think that in the east of Ukraine approximately 70 percent, 75 percent want to join to Russia," Termigaliev added, crediting unnamed sociologists.
Later Sunday, Crimea's elections commission announced that with 50 percent of ballots counted, 95.5 percent of Crimeans had voted to become part of Russia.
But before the vote had even begun, planning was already in place to modify key elements of Crimea's infrastructure, Temirgaliev said, including plans to build a power plant in eastern Ukraine with a cable receiving power from mainland Russia.