In an historic move Crimea has voted in a referendum to split from Ukraine and join Russia. The Moscow Times reported on March 17, 2014 that the Crimea government is moving swiftly to join Russia. Authorities in Crimea said more than 96 percent of voters chose to join Russia in Sunday's vote.
Moscow has since signaled that it could begin annexing the Black Sea region in the coming weeks in spite of bitter objections by Kiev and Western powers. The vote was not recognized by the U.S., the European Union and the central Ukrainian government. The streets in Simferopol appeared festive after the vote. Bands have been playing Russian rock songs and Russian flags have appeared.
Meanwhile it has been reported by the Voice of Russia that Russian Speaker Matvienko has called U.S. sanctions "pure blackmail". Matvienko told reporters, "The announcement of sanctions against senior Russian officials who carry out their public functions is an unprecedented decision, the likes of which the world had not seen even during the Cold War. To call things by their proper names, this is political blackmail." Matvienko referred to the imposition of sanctions against Russian officials as counterproductive and said that only way is the path of dialogue and negotiation with the interests of the Ukrainian and Russian people in mind.
Travel bans have been imposed by Washington on Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych as well as on Crimea’s Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and Chairman of Crimean Supreme Council Vladimir Konstantinov. Washington has also been threatening to extend sanctions imposed earlier on 21 Russian citizens if the situation in Ukraine remains unsettled.
U.S. President Obama has ordered a freeze on the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials in retaliation their support of Crimea's vote to split from Ukraine. Top advisers to President Vladimir Putin are on this list of Russian officials hit by Obama's order. Obama has said he is moving to "increase the cost" to Russia, and he has warned that more people could face financial punishment. A Cold War atmosphere therefore now exists between the United States and Russia, with Moscow blaming the U.S. for this dangerous state of poor relations between the two superpowers.