EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to step up sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
As separatists declared their victory in Sunday’s vote, Russia said it respected the outcome which should be implemented peacefully.
But the EU called the referendum “illegal” and said it would not recognise the result.
William Hague, British Foreign Secretary said: “These votes, these attempt at referendums have zero credibility in the eyes of the world. They are illegal by anybody’s standards, they don’t meet any standard, not a single standard of objectivity, transparency, fairness or being properly conducted as a public referendum or election and indeed the people organising them didn’t even pretend to meet any of those standards”.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the referendum went against an agreement by Ukraine, Russia, the US and EU last month aimed at defusing the crisis.
“Well we are still looking for signs of real de-escalation. You know very well that that means seeing where troop movements might be, it means also the signals that need to be sent to calm things down…,” said Ashton.
EU member states, heavily dependent on Russia for energy, are divided over how far to go in looking to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
Some fear tough sanctions could undermine their own economies .. and provoke Russian retaliation.