Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Steven Erlanger and Ellen Barry / The New York Times – 2014-03-10 00:16:12
A US Senator Tells Ukrainians How to Vote
“The Ukrainian people will determine their own future. They want to be Western. … They do not want to be Eastern,” Senator John McCain declared on CBS’s Face the Nation. A partition of Ukraine (including a Crimean vote to sucede), would “not be acceptable” — even if a majority of the Crimean people voted for it.
US: Russia Will Pay If Crimeans Vote to Join Them
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 9, 2014) — Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken insisted today that Russia will pay costs that “would increase significantly” if next week’s Crimean referendum ends with secession from the Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.
Blinken went on to say that the US would never accept the results of the referendum and that “most of the world” will not consider Crimea independent either.
President Obama insists that referendums on secession are illegal unless they are endorsed by the democratically elected government of their ruling power they are trying to break off from. Since Ukraine’s newly installed government wasn’t elected in the first place, it isn’t clear how their objection precludes the vote.
US officials have threatened major sanctions against Russia if they annex Crimea, though since the US has only trivial business ties with Russia to start with, the impact is expected to be very limited.
Competing Rallies Before a Referendum
NEW YORK TIMES/REUTERS VIDEO — As a referendum on the future of Crimea approaches, demonstrators in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe gathered. Some waved Russian flags while others compared Vladimir V. Putin to Hitler.
Clashes in Ukraine as Rallies Take a Turn
Steven Erlanger and Ellen Barry / The New York Times
KIEV, Ukraine (March 9, 2014) — Rival rallies turned violent in Crimea on Sunday, as Ukraine celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its greatest poet and the White House announced that President Obama would host the Ukrainian prime minister just days before a controversial referendum on Crimean secession next week.
In Kiev, the capital, tens of thousands rallied in Independence Square to celebrate the birth of Taras Shevchenko, a poet who is a symbol of Ukrainian nationhood. The gathering was both a riposte to Russia and a memorial service for the more than 80 people who died there.
“Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land,” said the interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who will visit the White House on Wednesday. “We won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.”
Yet in Sevastopol, Crimea, a pro-Ukraine rally attended by several hundred people was attacked by pro-Russia supporters — some brandishing whips — who had their own large rally there.
In the Crimean capital, Simferopol, about 400 people, a mixture of pro-Ukrainian Russians and Tatars, gathered around a statue of Shevchenko while listening to readings of his works and speeches calling for Russian troops to withdraw. The police there stopped a group of hooded men from approaching the rally.
In Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, thousands of pro-Russian activists took over the city’s main thoroughfare to call for greater autonomy from Kiev and a referendum on secession. Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and opposition politician who is now a presidential candidate, visited Donetsk to appeal for calm after days of violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters.
“The current conflict and aggression must be resolved,” Mr. Klitschko told reporters at a news conference, urging residents to support national unity and stating that he was worried that the events in Crimea may repeat themselves here, in the country’s east. “It must not be solved through bloodshed.”
He laid a wreath at a statue of Shevchenko, but canceled a scheduled appearance at a rally at the request of the police.
In nearby Luhansk, the regional capital of a coal-mining region bordering Russia, several thousand protesters occupied a regional administration building, where the region’s governor, a Kiev appointee, is based, and raised the Russian flag.
As Ukrainians rallied on Sunday, leaders of several nations continued to pursue diplomacy. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Mr. Cameron’s office relayed that Mr. Putin “said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis” and “agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine.”
By the British account, Mr. Putin said he would discuss proposals for a contact group, which the West envisages involving direct talks between Moscow and Kiev.
The German government said Ms. Merkel made it clear that any Crimean referendum was illegal and that it would not be recognized internationally. On Thursday, the chancellor said that if a contact group was not formed soon and no progress was made in negotiations with Russia, the European Union could impose sanctions on Russia, including travel restrictions and the freezing of assets.
According to the Kremlin’s account of the call, however, Mr. 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” and that Kiev was not acting “to limit the rampant behavior of ultranationalists and radical forces in the capital and in many regions.”
The Kremlin statement continued: “Despite the differences in the assessments of what is happening,” the three leaders “expressed a common interest in de-escalation of the tensions and normalization of the situation as soon as possible.”
The new Ukrainian government and its supporters, the United States and the European Union, reject the legitimacy of the Crimea referendum, scheduled for March 16, and deny that any ethnic Russians or Russian speakers have been threatened or harmed in Ukraine.
Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, had said on Friday that Ukrainian troops remaining there should “quietly and peacefully” leave the territory unless they were willing to renounce their loyalty to Kiev and serve the region’s new administration.
Late Sunday, Mr. Konstantinov told reporters that the Ukrainian military installations “in large part have come under control — they are blocked, and their weapons are under joint control.” That was only partially true, since Russian forces were still demanding that Ukrainian forces disarm and surrender.
He said the Ukrainian forces’ final status will be determined after the referendum. “If they want to serve the people of Crimea, they need to inform us of that,” he said. “Those who do not want to, we will secure their safe exit from the territory of Crimea, and they can leave the peninsula.”
In the United States, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, rejected the notion that Crimea was now effectively Russian. “It’s not a done deal,” he said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “I think the door is clearly open to resolving this diplomatically.”
He noted that Mr. Obama and European leaders continued to engage with Mr. Putin.
“Russia’s paying a price for this,” he said. “The question now is whether they will take the off ramp that the president and our partners around Europe have proposed. There is a way out of this that can take into account Russia’s interests and concerns, but restores Ukraine’s sovereignty. That’s what we’re working on.”
Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary, was less optimistic, telling “Fox News Sunday”: “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hands.” He said of Mr. Putin: “I don’t think that he will stop in Ukraine until there is a government in Ukraine, in Kiev, that is essentially pro-Russian.”
Although President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not want to escalate the Crimean crisis, the Pentagon has increased training operations in Poland and sent fighter jets to patrol the skies over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, three former Soviet republics with sizable populations of ethnic Russians.
In Kiev, the rally on Sunday was also addressed by an emotional Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil oligarch who spent years in prison after he challenged Mr. Putin. Mr. Khodorkovsky was released in December.
“I want you to know that there is another Russia,” he said. “There are people who despite the arrests, despite the long years they have spent in prison, go to antiwar demonstrations in Moscow” and support “friendship between the Russian and Ukrainian people.” He said he saw no more “fascists or neo-Nazis” in Kiev than “on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
Mr. Khodorkovsky added, “I believe that Russia and Ukraine have a united, common European future.”
Steven Erlanger reported from Kiev, and Ellen Barry from Moscow. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Roth from Donetsk, Ukraine; Noah Sneider and Patrick Reevell from Crimea, Ukraine; and Brian Knowlton from Washington.
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