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Tensions in Crimea soar

February 27, 2014, 15:11 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© EPA/ARTUR SHVARTS

MOSCOW, February 27. /ITAR-TASS/. The situation in Ukraine’s Crimean autonomy and around it is getting ever more strained. However, Russian experts are in no mood of over-dramatizing the situation. They believe the current developments are unlikely to have any far-reaching effects.

Early Thursday morning the buildings of the Crimean parliament and the Council of Ministers were seized by a group of people in uniform without any insignia. The Russian flag was hoisted over the legislature’s building. A short while later, reports arrived that both buildings were under the control of the Russian-speaking population’s self-defense units. Such groups are said to be emerging spontaneously all over the peninsula and moving towards the autonomy’s capital - Simferopol.

The Ukrainian security service on Wednesday opened a criminal case over preparations for an encroachment against the territorial integrity of the country in the wake of the latest developments in the Crimean parliament. However, the speaker of the Crimean legislature, Vladimir Konstantinov, on Thursday came out with a statement to declare that “the Crimean parliament does not consider the Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. He dismissed such claims as a “provocation aimed at discrediting the autonomy’s parliament and strip it of legitimacy.”

On Thursday, several thousand demonstrators gathered in the centre of Simferopol for two parallel rallies. One crowd was chanting “The Crimea is not Russia” and “Ukraine, Ukraine”. In that group of demonstrators there were quite a few supporters of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatars. The other crowd, under the flags of the Crimea and Russia, was chanting “Russia, Russia.”

The chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers, Anatoly Mogilev, urged the people to stay calm, adding the situation was under control. He promised that the authorities of the autonomy would “cope with the problem” by starting a negotiating process.

Tensions over the Crimea surged up when a large group off the Russian-speaking population responded angrily to the latest developments in Kiev, first and foremost, the Ukrainian parliament’s decision to cancel the regional status of the Russian language.

The Crimean Peninsula, which the Russian army conquered back in the 18th century during the Rule of Catherine the Great, was taken away from Russia and handed over to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in 1954. In those years Russia and Ukraine were integral parts of one country, the USSR, and the handover of the Crimea was a sheer formality. Since 1991, when Ukraine became an independent country, the Crimean problems have been a permanent headache for the authorities in Kiev. Under the Ukrainian Constitution the Crimea is the sole territory of the country that has the status of autonomy. Up to 1995 the peninsula coexisted with Ukraine on the confederative principles and had its own president. Many in the Crimea have now demanded restoring that status.

According to the latest population census, held in 2001, Russians in the Crimea accounted for 58%. Now the Russian community has shrunk somewhat. Many Russian speakers have responded very negatively to the latest events in Ukraine, and part of the Russian-speaking population has called for the Crimea’s unification with Russia. On the contrary, the Crimean Tatars, constituting no less than 15% of the population, have supported Kiev’s “maidan” and firmly opposed the idea of re-unification with Russia.

The residents of Sevastopol are most resolutely-minded. This city, situated in the Crimean Peninsula, is not part of the autonomy. It enjoys the status of a separate administrative and territorial entity of Ukraine. Sevastopol, which in Russia is called “a city of Russian combat glory” is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Sevastopol’s mayor Alexei Chaly, elected at an improvised popular assembly last Sunday, declared he did not recognize the authority of the parliament in Kiev and voiced the determination to protect the city from Ukrainian nationalists.

According to one of the activists in Sevastopol, quoted by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the city’s people are certain that power in Kiev has been seized by neo-Nazis, who are about to come to the Crimea to shoot Russians and attack the Russian fleet. “We are peaceful people, but we shall rise in defense of our homes and families,” the man said, adding that an open-ended rally was underway in the centre of the city by protesters defiant of the new authorities in Kiev.

The deputy director of the CIS Countries Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, has described the latest developments in the Crimea as a symmetric response to what happened in Western Ukraine several days ago. “The Crimea is witnessing what Lvov saw a little earlier. But the sign is the opposite.”

“When the rioters were kicking out legitimate authorities and setting administrative buildings on fire, it did not occurred to them that they were creating a precedent for the Crimea to follow,” he said.

The Crimea, he said, is the “extreme point of protest” in south-eastern Ukraine against the new authorities and the settlement of the situation in the autonomy depends mostly on Kiev. “If Kiev respects their interests, in the first place, the status of the Russian language, then the Crimea will be prepared to remain part of Ukraine.” After all, for many years the Crimeans have managed to exist within Ukraine, despite all the problems.”

“Ukraine has a revolutionary situation. Emotions are overflowing on both sides,” the board chairman of the Political Technologies Centre, Boris Makarenko, has told Itar-Tass. However, the current developments in the Crimea are unlikely to have any far-reaching effects, Makarenko believes.

“The Crimea has no enemy to defend itself from. Nobody is going to attack them. It is to be hoped this will not lead to a loss of human life,” Makarenko said.

In the meantime, Kiev is building up tensions. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, acting in the capacity of Ukraine’s president told the Verkhovna Rada on Thursday that any movements by the Russian Black Sea Fleet personnel inside the Crimea will be interpreted as military aggression against Ukraine.

In Moscow, a senior Russian official has told ITAR-TASS that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had asked the Russian authorities to guarantee his personal security and “the request was satisfied in the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Yanukovych himself said that he still considered himself Ukrainian president and warned that any orders to the law enforcement agencies to intervene in the political situation in the south-eastern and eastern regions of Ukraine would be illegitimate and criminal.

 

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