Tensions rise over Crimea

Approximately 60 armed men seized control over the parliament building in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The men are thought to be pro-Russian and have raised the Russian flag over the government buildings and put up a sign saying “Crimea is Russia”. Local government officials are said to negotiate with the gunman and have sealed off the area. The move came amidst growing concerns of separatism on the overwhelmingly pro-Russian peninsula.

Ukrainian designated Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said: "Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the centre of the city" and called the gunmen provocateurs. The incident is another illustration of rising tensions on the peninsula. Earlier this week clashes between Ukrainians and Pro-Russians occurred in Simferopol and Sevastopol.

The Crimea

The Crimea is a peninsula in the Black Sea in the south of Ukraine. It had been a part of Russia till 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev designated the region to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The peninsula is inhabited by a minority of ethnic Ukrainians and Muslim Tartars loyal to Kyiv, and a majority of ethnic Russians, favoring closer ties with Russia. Tensions between both groups started rising when pro-Russian President Victor Yanokovych was removed from power and fled the capital last week.    

On Wednesday, when the regional parliament was preparing to discuss the new political situation in the country, clashes occurred between pro-Russian separatists and Kyiv loyalists. Ethnic Tartars converged near the parliament to support the ‘Euromaidan’ movement in Kyiv. They were met by pro-Russia demonstrators loyal to Moscow. Several people got seriously injured and one man died, apparently from a heart attack. As a result of the violence, the parliamentary session was cancelled.    

A new government in Kyiv

Meanwhile, a new Ukrainian interim-government was announced. The announcement was made on the Maidan Square in central Kyiv, the very heart of the protests against former President Yanukovych. Fatherland Party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was namend new prime minister.

Because the new government has to represent the entire country, including the pro-Russian eastern regions, some candidates did not have the support of the Maidan protesters. Acting Ukrainian president Oleksandr Turchynov told the crowds the country needed a government, otherwise it would fall into anarchy. Yatsenyuk said the new government is facing some harsh masures, "We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight […] We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell".
Today parliament voted in the new government.

Russia flexes its muscles

Wednesday, Russian President Putin ordered a major military exercise of the country’s armed forces in western Russia, on the border with Ukraine. The military exercise appears to be a show of power to the new Ukrainian government. Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, denied the drills had anything to do with the political situation in Kyiv, but the move comes amid forthright statements from Russia about the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine being violated.

The Crimean port of Sevastopol is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet and is of great military importance. Shoigu said "The commander-in-chief has set the task of checking the capability of the armed forces to deal with crisis situations posing a threat to the military security of the country". Russia is moving to ensure the security of its Black Sea fleet. Acting Ukrainian President Turchynov said he would regard al movements of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol as acts of aggression.

East versus west?

Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom  and France pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine with a 1994 treaty. Now it seems this pledge is coming under pressure. In reaction to Russia’s military exercise, US foreign minister John Kerry urged Russia to respect the Ukrainian national integrity. Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fog Rasmussen said: “I urge Russia not to take any action that can escalate tension or create misunderstanding”. Shoigu said Russia would do everything to ensure the rights of Russian citizens.

The Ukrainian conflict appears to become more then a conflict ‘for’ east or west, but also a conflict ‘by’ east and west. Kerry said however: "It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-US or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that's a very powerful force".

Soucres: Al Arabya, Al jazeera, BBC I, BBC II, the Guardian I, the Guardian II, the Guardian III, Itar-tass, Reuters I, Reuters II, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.   

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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