March 10, 2014
March 9, 2014
By the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, they came with yellow-blue flags and chanted “Glory to Ukraine” and “Down with the Russian occupiers”. Across town by the monument to Vladimir Lenin, the flags were red, white and blue, and the chanting was for union with Russia. There were two very different visions of Crimea’s future on display at the two rallies in its capital on Sunday, a week before the peninsula holds a referendum on joining Russia which the west has called illegitimate, but Russia’s parliament has strongly suggested it will honour. At a similar pro-Ukraine rally in the port city of Sevastopol, the demonstrators were attacked by a group of whip-wielding Cossacks, in a forewarning of the possible violence in the coming months. There are fears that after the referendum, there could be clashes between the large pro-Russian population and the minority Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian populations, who are aghast at the prospect of union with Moscow. The referendum, to be held on Sunday, will ask Crimeans if they want more autonomy within Ukraine or union with Russia. However, the local parliament has already voted for union with Russia and said the referendum is merely meant to “confirm” the decision.
Vladimir Putin said last week that there was no suggestion of Russia annexing Crimea, but Moscow put on a warm reception for the region’s de facto leaders on Friday, and in a phone call with David Cameron and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Sunday, Putin appeared to back the referendum. “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea’s legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population,” said the Kremlin in a statement about the call. In the same phone call, Cameron told Putin that Britain and the EU wanted to work towards a diplomatic solution. The Foreign Office said: “The prime minister called President Putin this morning to urge him to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between the governments of Russia and Ukraine. “The PM made clear that we, along with our European and American partners, want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea.”