Ukraine: Push for secession in the East

After the anti-government protests in Kiev’s Maidan and as President Yanukovich is deposed, Eastern regions in Ukraine are rising to protest the new parliament and voicing their support for possible succession and work with Russia just over the border. These states – locally known as oblasts, regions – include southeast peninsula Crimea, the second largest Ukrainian city on the northeast border Kharkiv and the third largest Ukrainian city in the south Odessa. Crimea is largely Russian speaking and also hosts a Russian naval base.

[View rolling updates on the Maidan side of Ukraine]

Over the weekend, 30,000 pro-Russia, anti-Maidan protesters took to Sevastopol streets on the Crimea peninsula; there was a political anti-Maidan meeting in Kharkiv involving Russian delegates; two were arrested in Odessa for guarding a Lenin statue.

There are reports of growing crowds of hundreds in Sevastopol Monday gathering to demand for a new pro-Russian local government. They were seen outside the City Hall in the city on the Crimea peninsula.

The protest in Sevastopol on Saturday hosted tens of thousands – according to reporter Simon Shutser in Crimea – included half of the city’s population, making it hit the 30,000 mark. There were massive crowds waving Russian flags, burning Ukrainian flags demanding calls for succession from Ukraine and for Russian intervention

Ukrainian politician and organizer of the ongoing Sevastopol protests Yermakova told reporter Shutser Monday in Crimea, “We have expert lawyers working on our secession documents now.”

In addition to that, reporter Maxim Erisavi shared that the Ukrainian Interior Minister made a comment on Russian troops moving in Crimea, “They showed some activity, but now they’re back on the base.” The Russian ambassador to Ukraine recalled to Moscow for consultations on Sunday.

In reports over the weekend, Shutser also stated Saturday that in Ukraine’s southeast peninsula of Crimea and eastern oblasts along the Russian border may be in talks of succession to Russia.

Simon Shuster reported, “Russia appears to be preparing a grab for parts of Ukraine. […] Crimea asking for “protection” from Russia’s army.” He also states that there were senior Moscow delegates in Kharkiv, another oblast which is more up in the northeast of Ukraine and along the Russian border.

United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Sunday morning on Ukraine:

Rice said President Barack Obama had told Putin that the United States and Russia have a shared interest in keeping Ukraine unified and independent. She said, “It’s not in the interest of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the United States to see a country split. It’s in nobody’s interests to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

She added that “there is not an inherent contradiction between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia, and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe.”

Ukraine depends on Russia, its neighbor to its east, for most of its natural gas and oil supplies. Russia also has a naval base at Sebastopol in the Ukrainian province of Crimea.

On Sunday, there were some rough, unconfirmed reports – perhaps rumors – of Russian military movement along the Ukrainian border. Videos and photos of such movement have been posted on social media sites. Sightings have been mentioned in Russia’s Novorossiysk, just 100 miles off of the southeast corner of Ukraine.

TIME Magazine has more on the situation in regards to Eastern Ukraine. Here’s an excerpt:

On Saturday afternoon in Crimea, around 3,000 ethnic Russians came out to appeal for the protection of Moscow at a demonstration in the main square of Sevastopol, a short walk from the warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. “There isn’t even any need for Russia to invade,” Yermakova, who organized the demonstration, told TIME on the square. “They are already right here.”

Earlier that day, a senior delegation of Russian diplomats arrived in Ukraine to assess their options. In the eastern city of Kharkiv, they met with about 3,000 local and municipal officials from the deposed government, all of them from the pro-Russian regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. The deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, who had fled to Kharkiv from Kiev earlier that day, did not attend. Together, pro-Russian Ukrainian officials and the Russian delegation passed a resolution denouncing the revolutionary leaders as “extremists and terrorists.”

Vadim Kolesnichenko, a member of parliament from Crimea and one of Ukraine’s most staunchly pro-Russian politicians, read out the resolution to the delegates. “The cohesion and security of Ukraine is under threat,” he said. “Five atomic power stations and 15 nuclear reactors have come under direct threat from extremists and terrorists.” As long as the revolutionaries refuse to lay down their arms and surrender government buildings, the local authorities in Crimea and eastern Ukraine will ignore all their decisions and “take responsibility for maintaining constitutional order on themselves.”

The document amounted to a secession; at the very least, it marked a total rejection of the revolutionary government’s legitimacy. Alexei Pushkov, the most senior Russian delegate at that summit, wrote on his Twitter feed: “There is not a gram of separatism at the summit in Kharkiv. The main point of the statements is that we do not intend to split up the country. We want to preserve it.” In his next post, he added, “A summit took place here of five [Ukrainian] regions against violence, chaos and collapse.”

The Guardian put up a report earlier today on discussions of succession by Ukrainian regions along the Russian border. Here’s a few excerpts:

At a protest attended by thousands in the port city of Sevastopol on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the crowd voted to establish a parallel administration and civil defence squads. Demonstrators waved Russian flags – there was not a Ukrainian flag to be seen – and chanted “Russia, Russia, Russia” during the gathering.

“Sevastopol is a Russian town and will always be a Russian town… we will never surrender to those fascists in Kiev,” said Anatoly, who was handing out Russian flags and declined to give his surname. “The struggle is only just beginning.”

The largely Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine have been shaken by events in the Ukrainian capital over the last week that have led to the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Nowhere in the country is a Russian heritage stronger than in Crimea. The peninsula was officially a part of Russia until 60 years ago when the Soviet leadership transferred it to Ukraine.

Speakers at the protest avoided direct calls for Russian intervention, but when the head of the city’s administration said that the secession of Crimea could not be permitted he was booed from the stage.

Russian officials refrain from publicly stating their support for Crimean separatism, but Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev described Ukraine last month as “schizophrenic” and said that Russia would support greater federalism.


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