KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — It could be a way of de-escalating the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
The parliament in the Ukrainian region of Crimea says if residents vote on Sunday to become part of Russia, the peninsula will declare itself independent and propose becoming a Russian state.
That could give Moscow the option of saying there's no need for Crimea to become part of Russia -- while at the same time keeping it firmly within its sphere of influence.
A Russian move to absorb Crimea would only worsen tensions with the West. The Crimean parliament declaration could put that move on hold, depending on the outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's bargaining with the West.
In Sunday's referendum, voters will have two options: becoming part of Russia or remaining in Ukraine with broader powers.
Around Crimea's capital, there are billboards proclaiming, "Together with Russia." Street vendors are selling Russian flags to passing motorists.
Ukraine's prime minister will fly to Washington to meet tomorrow with President Barack Obama. He's calling on the West to defend Ukraine against a nation that he says "is armed to the teeth" and has nuclear weapons.