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World scrambles as Russia tightens grip on Crimea
Question of the Day
“We are on a very dangerous track,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. But “it is still possible to turn around. A new division of Europe can still be prevented.”
So far, however, Ukraine’s new government and the West have been powerless to counter Russia’s tactics. Armed men in uniforms without insignia have moved freely about Crimea for days, occupying airports, smashing equipment at an air base and besieging a Ukrainian infantry base.
Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. His confidence is matched by the knowledge that Ukraine’s 46 million people have divided loyalties. While much of western Ukraine wants closer ties with the 28-nation European Union, its eastern and southern regions like Crimea look to Russia for support.
Russia has long wanted to reclaim the lush Crimean Peninsula, part of its territory until 1954. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet pays Ukraine millions annually to be stationed at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and nearly 60 percent of Crimea’s residents identify themselves as Russian.
During a phone conversation Sunday with Merkel, Putin “directed her attention to the unrelenting threat of violence from ultranationalist forces (in Ukraine) that endangered the life and legal interests of Russian citizens,” according to a Kremlin statement.
“The measures taken by Russia are fully adequate with regard to the current extraordinary situation,” it said.
Russia’s state-controlled media has played almost nonstop footage of the Ukrainian crisis, highlighting what it says are ultranationalist attacks on Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians by activists from Kiev or regions further west. However, AP reporters in Ukraine witnessed no acts of violence directed at Russians or Russian sympathizers in Crimea.
Ukraine’s new government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against the country’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the EU. Yanukovych fled to Russia after more than 80 people were killed in the protests, but insists he’s still president.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, put Ukraine’s armed forces on alert Sunday, calling up reserves for training and stepping up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic locations. However, no overt military actions by Ukraine were seen.
Turchynov also moved to consolidate authority in eastern Ukraine, appointing 18 new regional governors, including two of the countries wealthiest businessmen, known as oligarchs, in the cities of Dneprotrovsk and Donetsk, as big business and the Ukrainian government united against Russia.
Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, urged business, ordinary people and the government to join together, saying Sunday that the use of force and “illegal action from outside” were “impermissible.”
“I call upon all my fellow citizens to unity for the sake of a whole and undivided Ukraine … Our strength is in the solidarity of business, government and society,” said Akhmetov, whose SCM Group has 300,000 employees and interests in steel, coal and mining.
“The national elite has consolidated around the new government,” political analyst Vadim Karasyov of the Institute for Global Strategies told The Associated Press. “This is a very good sign for the new government.”
Russian troops, meanwhile, pulled up to the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne on the Crimean Peninsula in a convoy Sunday that included at least 13 trucks and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian license plates.
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