Crimea's parliament pushes for independence

By By The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine — Crimea's Parliament

said Tuesday that if the public votes to become part of Russia, the

peninsula will

declare itself independent and propose becoming a Russian state.

That could offer a way of de-escalating the standoff between

Russia and the West.

The vote in Crimea's Parliament about Sunday's referendum could give Moscow the option of saying there is no need for Crimea

to become part of Russia.

The dispute between Moscow and the West over Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end

of the Cold War. Russian forces have secured control over the peninsula, but Ukraine's government and Western nations have

denounced the referendum as illegitimate and strongly warned Russia against trying to annex Crimea.

The Crimean Parliament's declaration could put the bid to join Russia on hold, depending on the outcome of Russian President

Vladimir Putin's bargaining with the West.

In Sunday's referendum, the public will be given two options: becoming part of Russia, or remaining in Ukraine with broader

powers.

Crimea, where Russia maintains its Black Sea Fleet base, became the epicenter of tensions in Ukraine after President Viktor

Yanukovych fled last month in the wake of months of protests and outbreaks of bloodshed.

Kiev-based political analyst Vadim Karasyov said the Crimean Parliament's move is "a message to the West that there is no

talk about Russia incorporating Crimea." He said "It's a tranquilizer for everybody — for the West and for many in Ukraine

who are panicking."

Karasyov speculated that Crimea could exist as a "quasi-legitimate" state, while Russia and the West negotiate.

After a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, some leaders in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South

Ossetia lobbied to join Russia, but their request was never granted.

Putin's "task now is to get a stake in the

shareholding company called Ukraine. He believes that the West now has

the majority

stake and he doesn't even have a blocking package," Karasyov told

the AP. "So Crimea is an attempt to get a blocking package."

Russia's Foreign Ministry later said in a statement that the Crimean parliament's action was legitimate. "Russia will respect

the results of Crimea's referendum that will be monitored by OSCE observers," the ministry said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone Tuesday at

Washington's initiative.

"From the Russian side, the necessity was

underlined of taking into complete account the interests of all

Ukrainians and all

regions in the search for an exit from the crisis and also the

respect of the right of the residents of Crimea to determine

their fate on their own in accordance with the norms of

international law," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.