Crimea has remained defiant in the face of international condemnation and proceeded with a referendum that will decide the Ukrainian peninsula's fate.

Described as illegitimate by much of the world, the referendum will decide whether Crimea splits from Ukraine to become part of Russia, or whether it will return to the 1992 constitution, giving it greater autonomy.

There is no option to keep Crimea's current legal standing within Ukraine. It is widely expected that the people will vote to join Russia.

Joining Russia

If Crimea joins Russia, all Ukrainian forces in the region will be expected to surrender or be considered "illegal" troops. This has added to fears that the referendum results could be a catalyst for violence.

Moscow has vowed to respect the referendum results, leading to threats of sanctions by the US and EU and increasing isolation of Russia from the international community.

If the sanctions are imposed, Russia has said it will introduce its own restrictions, matching those of the EU and US, but could also take things further given its control over gas and oil prices in the region.

In Crimea itself, the fate of the minority Muslim Tatars would hang in the balance were the region to join Russia as the group insist they want to remain Ukrainian and fear how they would be treated if their homeland became part of Russia.

Assurances by Crimean authorities that minorities in the region would not face discrimination have done little to reassure the group.

Following the referendum, attention is likely to move east to heavily Russian-populated cities such as Donetsk and Kharkiv in which the central government is struggling to stamp its authority.

Returning to 1992 constitution

Far from being a maintenance of the current situation, a return to the 1992 Constitution will give Crimea greater autonomy than it currently has, while still maintaining its status as part of Ukraine.

Crimea is already semi-autnomous, but is under certain restrictions such as not being able to appoint a prime minister without Kiev's approval. A return to the constitution would increase this autonomy and give the newly-installed pro-Russian government of Crimea legislative powers.

The 1992 constitution originally stated Crimea was independent, with a sentence inserted a day later to state it was still part of Ukraine.

There has been little clarification on which version of the constitution will be enacted.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies