Crimean Tatars held protests in the peninsula on March 14 ahead of a referendum to join Russia. Around 500 demonstrators took to the streets calling for "Russian soldiers to return home." Tatar leaders have dismissed this weekend's poll as illegal and called for a boycott. (Euronews) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to support Crimea's Tatars. "Turkey has never left Crimean Tatars alone and will never do so," he said, after a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to protect the "rights of our kinsmen" after meeting with Ukrainian officials and representatives of the Tatar community during a visit to Kiev. (AFP, March 13) In a move to reassure the Tatars, Crimea's parliament has passed a resolution guaranteeing the ethnic minority proportional representation in the body, and granting their language official status. (RT, March 11) Meanwhile, street clashes are reported from the eatsern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with one young man killed in fighting between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. (The Guardian, March 14)
In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)
In response to the Crimea crisis, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced he is to delay talks with Russia on the South Stream gas pipeline that would export Russian gas via the Black Sea. The South Stream line strategically bypasses Ukraine, which currently hosts the main arteries for export of Russian gas. (Reuters, March 10) The European Commission has already postponed discussion of the OPAL pipeline, part of the Nord Stream project, which similarly bypasses Ukraine via the Baltic Sea. (Voice of Russia, March 11) Russia's giant Gazprom, which uses the existing Nord Stream line to send gas to Germany, plans to start shipments to Europe through the South Stream line at the end of 2015. Russia is seeking to boost gas exports to Europe as much as 23% over the next 20 years. (Bloomberg, March 12)
Newly appointed head of the Crimean Security Service, Petr Zima, said March 3 that he plans to take measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organization with a following among the Crimean Tatars. "Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognized as a terrorist organization," he announced in a televsied statement. "Today there are elements of this organization in Crimea. Corresponding functions are laid on the Crimean Security Service and we will struggle against them. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov added that officials will take measures, including using force, "against those who don't want to cooperate with official power." (InterFax, March 3) Zima's appointment comes just as Aksenov's government has welcomed Russian troops to Crimea, in defiance of authorities in Kiev.
Moscow police on March 2 arrested hundreds protesting against military intervention in Ukraine, a rights group said, after President Vladimir Putin won approval from senators to send troops into the neighboring country. Ovdinfo, a rights group that tracks arrests at demonstrations, said 352 were detained at two anti-war protests in central Moscow. Police gave a much lower figure of 50 people detained for "attempts to violate public order," according to Interfax news agency. Anti-war protesters gathered near the defence ministry in central Moscow, and at Manezhnaya square near the Kremlin. Demonstrators held up peace signs and posters saying "No to war," while some also held Ukrainian flags and ribbons in the national colors of yellow and light blue.
A startling report on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Feb. 28 tells of a "Jewish-led militia force" that participated in the Ukrainian revolution—called the "Blue Helmets of Maidan" even though their helmets are (tellingly) brown, and under the command of a Ukraine-born veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who goes by the nom de guerre "Delta." In an interview, Delta boasted how he used combat skills gained in the Shu'alei Shimshon reconnaissance battalion of the IDF's Givati infantry brigade to rise through the ranks of Kiev's street fighters. He now heads a force of 40 men and women—including several fellow IDF veterans—that clashed with government troops in the street-fighting that brought down Viktor Yanukovich. Most bizarrely, Delta said he takes orders from activists linked to Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist party that is widely accused of anti-Semitism. "I don’t belong [to Svoboda], but I take orders from their team," he said. "They know I'm Israeli, Jewish and an ex-IDF soldier. They call me 'brother.' What they're saying about Svoboda is exaggerated, I know this for a fact."
A group of some 50 gunmen seized control of parliament and government buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them Feb. 27—just as the US warned Russia that military exercises planned near the border of Ukraine could "lead to miscalculation." With the top floor of the building occupied by the gunmen, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's future—whether to remain in Ukraine or join Russia. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovich said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament in Kiev meanwhile voted to send Yanukovich to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week. (AFP, The Guardian, BBC News, Globe & Mail, Feb. 27; The Guardian, Feb. 25)
Ukraine's acting interior minister Arsen Avakhov on Feb. 24 said on his official Facebook page that an arrest warrant has been issued for the country's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovich, for the mass killings of civilian anti-government protestors. In his statement, Avakhov said that an official case had been opened for the mass murder of peaceful citizens and that Yanukovich and other officials had been declared wanted, going on to say that Yanukovich was last seen in the Crimean peninsula before dismissing much of his security detail and going to an unknown location. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Ukraine's new leaders and accused them of coming to power as a result of armed mutiny. A vast majority of Ukraine's elected parliament voted for the new government, including members of Yanukovich's party, and acting President Oleksandr Turchinov has said that a new coalition government may be formed later this week.