WASHINGTON - The U.S. rejected the Crimea secession referendum today as illegal and readied retaliatory penalties against Russia, while shifting sights to deterring possible military advances elsewhere in Ukraine that could inflame the crisis.
Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to split off from Ukraine and join Russia. But even before official results were announced, the White House denounced the vote, saying it violated Ukraine's constitution and international law and was held under "threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention."
It said "no decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government" and noted that Russia had rejected the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians there were protected.
"Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border," the White House said.
"Russia's actions are dangerous and destabilizing," the White House said.
U.S. officials reaffirmed that the Obama administration will, along with the European Union, impose penalties on Russia if it annexes the strategic region. They also warned that any Russia moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.