KIEV, Ukraine, March 10 (UPI) — Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said Monday preparations for the southern Ukrainian region to become part of Russia have begun.
The peninsula will be ready to begin following Russian law within a couple of months of a pro-secession vote, and the autonomous region’s Finance Ministry has started working on a plan to switch from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the Russian ruble, Aksyonov told RIA Novosti.
Aksyonov also said Ukrainian would cease to be an official language if Crimea joined Russia.
“We use two languages on a daily basis — Russian and Crimean Tatar,” Aksyonov said. “It’s certain that the republic [of Crimea] will have two languages.”
The political crisis in Ukraine has led to a standoff between Russia and Western countries over what happens to Crimea, an autonomous region with a majority ethnic Russian population that will conduct a secession vote Sunday.
Crimean authorities won’t recognize as legitimate Kiev’s new government, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told British and German leaders a vote by Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia would be within international law.
Putin discussed international efforts to settle the crisis in Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron Sunday, RIA Novosti reported.
“Putin stressed, in particular, that the steps taken by the legitimate government in Crimea are based on the international law and are intended to defend the legitimate interests of Crimean residents,” a statement issued by the Kremlin’s news service said.
Thousands of unidentifiable troops were deployed to the peninsula, seizing control of administration buildings and taking over military bases. Putin has denied the troops are Russian, saying they are local militias, but they have been recorded on videotape as saying they are from Russia and have been seen driving vehicles with Russian military license plates.
In Kiev, the acting defense minister said Sunday military exercises being conducted weren’t related to events in Crimea.
Ukrainian media reported during the weekend witnesses saw armored vehicles and military trucks leaving the western Ukrainian city of Lvov, RIA Novosti reported
“No maneuvers, no movements by the armed forces toward Crimea have ever been planned. The troops are carrying out their regular, scheduled duties,” Interim Defense Minister Ihor Tenyuh was quoted by UNIAN news agency.