MOSCOW - The world should welcome the prospect ofCrimea becoming part of Russia as it rectifies a historic mistake from the Soviet era, the Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday.
Gorbachev said that Crimea had only ended up in the territory of post-Soviet Ukraine because it had been transferred from Russia by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev when both countries were part of the USSR.
"For sanctions to be imposed there should be a very serious basis. And they must be supported by the United Nations," Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency.
"The possible taking of Crimea into Russian territory does not constitute such a basis," he added.
He described the weekend's referendum where almost 97 per cent voted in favour of Crimea joining Russia "as a success that responded to the expectations of Crimeans."
"If until now Crimea had been joined to Ukraine because of Soviet laws that were taken without asking the people, then now the people (of Crimea) have decided to rectify this error," he said.
"This should be welcomed and not met with the announcement of sanctions," he added.
European Union foreign ministers agreed sanctions Monday against 21 Russian and Crimean officials deemed responsible for the referendum in Crimea, officials said.
Gorbachev remains despised by many in Russia for allowing the break-up of the Soviet Union, a country for which many Russians still feel nostalgia.