Preparations for joining Russia already underway – Crimean PM

Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said Monday that preparations for the southern Ukrainian region to become part of Russia are already underway.

A referendum to decide whether the region will become part of Russia will take place on March 16.

The peninsula will be ready to begin using Russian law within a couple of months of a pro-secession vote, and the local Finance Ministry is already working on a roadmap for switching from the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, to the Russian ruble, Aksyonov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

The referendum in Crimea, where ethnic Russians make up about 60 percent of the population, is widely expected to return a favourable result that will pave the way for annexation by Moscow.

Aksyonov also promised that Ukrainian would cease to be an official language if Crimea joined Russia.

“We use two languages on a daily basis a?? Russian and Crimean Tatar,” Aksyonov said. “It’s certain that the republic [of Crimea] will have two languages.”

About 15 percent of Crimea’s population of about 2 million people are ethnic Tatars, among whom support for the incoming regime in Kiev is reportedly strong.

Aksyonov has also promised senior political positions in a new Crimean government to members of the Tatar community.

Formerly the leader of a local pro-Russian political party, Aksyonov was appointed prime minister last month by a vote in the Crimean parliament.

The planned referendum has been brought forward twice from its original date of May 25 since it was announced by local lawmakers last month.

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