Crimea vote fallout, Malaysia jet and Mo Farah's collapse in the papers

Pro-Russian celebration in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, on 16 March 2014 after the referendum vote was announced Image copyright AP

The referendum in Crimea that saw residents vote overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia leads Monday's newspapers to ponder the response of the international community.

Even before the booths had closed, the US and UK were condemning the vote as a "gun-enforced sham designed to legitimise the Kremlin's annexing of the region", the Daily Telegraph says.

The Times sees the result as opening the way to "one of the most significant redrawings of the map of Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union" and reports the West's diplomatic focus is broadening to prevent further troop advances into eastern and southern Ukraine.

The Sun says the vote "threatens to unleash a global sanctions war" while the Financial Times sees the EU and US measures coming into effect as early as today.

Russia was heading "deeper into international isolation" as part of the geopolitical showdown that "has already sparked Europe's biggest security crisis since the Cold War," adds the FT.

But in a dispatch from Sevastopol, published on the Guardian's front page, Shaun Walker reports Soviet-era music blaring from loudspeakers, the Russian tricolour "everywhere" and "the overwhelming feeling... that the city was finally 'going home' after a 23-year stay in Ukraine".

'Dangerous divide'

The leader writers predict a week fraught with diplomatic challenges.

The Guardian sees the Crimea referendum result as "irrelevant because it has no standing in the law of the country to which it applies, and because it took place while the autonomous region was under military occupation" but it acknowledges that "East and West appear locked on the path to a new and dangerous divide".

The Independent says Russian President Vladimir Putin is the "new Tsar-liberator, at least in the eyes of the Russians in Crimea. Elsewhere in the world, he risks growing isolation, as the leader of the rogue state that cannot be trusted to deal with a shred of honesty with any of its neighbours".

Writing in the Times, Roger Boyes looks ahead to a week of brinkmanship. "Tough Western sanctions against Russia are now a certainty but there is still no agreement between the United States and the European Union about their ultimate aim... President Putin still believes that he can play for time."

The Times editorial urges Europe's leaders to "look beyond the short term and unite against the bully in the Kremlin". It says the threatened targeted sanctions should be brought in to "make pariahs of Russia's leaders with visa bans and the freezing of personal assets."

While the Daily Telegraph sees some form of sanctions as "almost inevitable" it adds "it is the interplay between politics and economics that makes this situation so dangerous and destabilising, transforming what would be a serious but containable crisis into something very much more disruptive".

In the Daily Telegraph, Sir Tony Brenton, Britain's former ambassador, says the decision on sanctions should be "put off".

"We still have a few days for diplomacy... Putin needs a ladder... which justifies withdrawal from Crimea," he says. "The occupation has been provoked by a real, if exaggerated , fear of Western expansionism. Ukraine is not, for the foreseeable future, going to move towards Nato or EU membership. We should promise that."

Jet search 'divisions'

A report outlining proposals to accelerate building work on the northern section of the high-speed HS2 rail project is detailed in the papers, with the Financial Times noting its warning to Parliament that the longer the £50bn scheme is held up, the harder it will be to control costs.

HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins' report makes "some sane and important recommendations.... that may go some way to meeting the reservations of the critics", says the Guardian. But it believes there is "also a danger that the need to build momentum behind this project overshadows legitimate debate about whether it is the best way to do it".

The Independent's Simon Calder says that as a means to revitalise the railways "HS2 is far from perfect, but it is the only grand project likely to succeed".

Image copyright AP

News that 25 countries are now involved in a vast search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane continues to generate headlines with the story featuring prominently on several front pages.

The Independent raises the possibility that the Boeing 777 may have been flown under the radar of Taliban-controlled bases on the border of Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan while the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror focus on a theory that it could have transmitted signals to satellites even after it had landed, "sparking hopes" that the 239 people on board could still be alive.

But the Times quotes a Kuala Lumpur-based diplomat as saying: "Despite the appearance of friendly co-operation between the countries, I think there are some big divisions opening behind the scenes.... Nobody is being completely transparent about releasing the data they have because a lot of it has a military aspect."

Budget pleas

Ahead of the Budget, there is more pressure on Chancellor George Osborne following his reported decision not to raise the 40p tax threshold.

According to the Daily Mail's lead story, the row over the millions of workers being "dragged" into paying the higher rate of tax threatens to overshadow Wednesday's speech, with a number of senior Tories and business leaders expressing concern.

In an editorial, the Mail says it hopes Mr Osborne will "at least" say he will raise the threshold "as soon as humanly possible" while the Daily Telegraph urges Mr Osborne to "think again" on the issue.

But the Financial Times says "Mr Osborne should be wary of such advice" as options for "vote-winning tax cuts aimed at the middle class" have been limited by expectations that the current rapid pace of economic growth will not last.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's lead story says an Oxfam report which states that the country's five richest families now have more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population highlights the "scale of Britain's growing inequality".

As the charity urges the chancellor to launch a fresh assault on tax avoidance in his budget and introduce a living wage, the Daily Mirror says the wealth chasm exposed by the report "is a symptom of an economy working for a tiny few instead of the majority".

Mo shrugs it off

Team GB double Olympic Gold medallist Mo Farah's collapse at the end of the New York half marathon raises some concern.

Image copyright AP

The Daily Telegraph suggests the incident is likely to raise fears for next month's London Marathon, Farah's first competitive race over 26.2 miles.

Farah earlier tripped up at the six-mile mark and the Guardian notes "as a preparation for his first marathon in four week's time, it could hardly have gone worse".

Although Farah did not need hospital treatment, the emergency services attended to the runner, and watched by his worried wife Tania, he was helped into a wheelchair after about three minutes on the ground, says the Daily Express.

The Daily Mail says Farah, who finished second in the race, was quick to take to Twitter to insist it was "no big deal" and put some blame on the sub-zero temperatures in New York after two months of training at altitude in hot weather in Keyna.

The Times says he shrugged off the scare and remains on course for his debut marathon. "I guess nothing changes. You just have to continue training," said Farah.

Meanwhile, a health scare appears to have had little impact on another man's stellar career. The Sunday Mirror's claims that Ronnie Corbett, 83, was retiring after he was treated in hospital last week for an inflamed gall bladder were "absolutely" wrong, and the veteran comedian is still busy with a series of projects, his wife Anne has told the Daily Mail and Daily Express.

The Daily Express welcomes her announcement as "great news". Plenty of years left before we hear the final 'Goodnight from him," it says.

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