One of 50 pro-Russian Crimean "self-defense" members crumples a poster taken from the hands of peaceful protesters on March 5 in Simferopol.SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- Some 50 pro-Russian men in support of closer ties with Russia confronted a group of women holding signs asking for peace and unity in Ukraine, kyivpost.com reports.
The men, who had arrived earlier in the morning to block the entrance of a Ukrainian military base at 62 Karl Marx Street, became agitated after some 30 women, young and old, arrived with handmade signs promoting peace and cooperation in the beleaguered peninsula and across Ukraine.
“Women of all nationalities for peace in Crimea, Ukraine,” read one of the group’s signs.
Another said: “Ukrainian women are thankful to Ukrainian soldiers for their bravery and restraint.
”Some were emblazoned with the flag of the European Union, and one read: “Ukraine welcomes EU – we, too, are Europeans.”
Tensions here have escalated over the past week after Russian troops swarmed the Crimean peninsula and surrounded Ukrainian military bases, issuing ultimatums to Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms and swear allegiance to Crimea and Russia, or else face raids.Russian President Vladimir Putin as recent as March 4 denied that Russian troops were in Ukraine.
But several people with whom the Kyiv Post spoke on March 4-5 admitted that they were Russian elite forces.
In Belbek, more than 100 Russian soldiers and 100 Ukrainian military pilots have been locked in a standoff after the former stormed the airbase there, preventing the Ukrainian troops from carrying out their duties and demanding that they defect to the Russian side.
In Perevalnoye, dozens of Russian soldiers armed with machine guns have surrounded their Ukrainian counterparts, trapping them inside their own base until they agree to surrender.
Supporting the Russian troops here are pro-Russian groups of men calling themselves "Crimean Self-Defense," and thousands of demonstrators who have turned out for protests in front of the autonomous republic’s parliament building in Simferopol, and in other locations around the peninsula.
Many of them are pleased with the presence of Russian troops and demand that Crimea becomes a part of the Russian Federation, separating from Ukraine.
“I think Crimea is Russia, because people here are Russian,” Nikolai Kovolenko, a Simferopol resident, told the Kyiv Post on March 5.
“All people who live here want to be in the Russian Federation. No NATO, no America, no European Union; only Russia.
”But not every pro-Russia demonstrator here wants Crimea to be a part of the Russian Federation. Many, including Svitlana Budzeika, a 50-year-old pensioner, say they would be happy with more autonomy.
“As an ethnic Russian, I love Russia. But Crimea doesn’t need to be a part of it to have a strong relationship. We only need full autonomy, which we will vote for,” Budzeika told the Kyiv Post, referring to a referendum that would broaden the powers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea scheduled for March 30.
Crimea joining Russia might not even be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan, mused Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a research organization, in an op-ed for The New York Times:
“Mr. Putin’s aim is not a de jure separation of Crimea from the rest of Ukraine.That would be legally problematic and disadvantageous to Moscow in terms of its future influence over Ukrainian politics. The purpose of Russia’s incursion was to obtain the greatest possible autonomy for Crimea while still retaining formal Ukrainian jurisdiction over the peninsula. A referendum on March 30 is likely to result in a vote for further autonomy, and it would provide Crimea with such broad freedoms that it would become a de facto Russian protectorate. Moscow would then aim to keep the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea indefinitely, and remove any limits on its operations, size and replenishment,” Pukhov wrote.
For some here, further autonomy isn’t necessary, and closer ties with Russia aren’t wanted.
“Crimea is part of Ukraine. I don’t want to live in Russia. I live in Ukraine… and I am a citizen of Ukraine,” said Olga Grekova. “Crimea was peaceful before they (Russian soldiers) came. We don’t need the army of Russia. It is a provocation. Russian army here is a big mistake here.”
One university student who did not give his name because of the current tensions he was against Crimea separating from Ukraine and cooperating with Russia more closely.“This referendum and this government (of Crimea) is not recognized by many people here, because it (was created) illegally,” he said.