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March 17, 2014

On the Scene: Elizabeth Arrott in Crimea

by Elizabeth Arrott

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrated Monday, as the region formally broke with Ukraine and began seeking union with Russia.

Crimean lawmakers headed to Moscow to work out details, following the results of a referendum Sunday which officials said was pro-Russian by a landslide.

"Support of the first question of whether you are for joining Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation is comprised of 1,233,002 people, which corresponded to 96.77 percent,” said Mikhail Malyshev, head of the Crimean Referendum Commission.
The vote prompted Western sanctions against Russian officials considered responsible for what U.S. and European leaders call a violation of international law, raising tensions to levels reminiscent of the Cold War.

In the center of the Crimean capital, though, a party mood prevailed.
Joining pro-Moscow revelers were self-described Russian patriots who came to welcome Crimea into their federation.

“We are one nation, one brotherly nation” said one man, who gave his name as Pavel.

Across town in Shevchenko Park, the scene of previous, pro-Ukraine rallies, all was quiet, as those opposed to joining Russia kept an increasingly low profile.
The dominant narrative here has been that the new pro-Europe government in Kyiv is “fascist” and illegitimate.

Foreign monitors invited by Crimea’s pro-Russia parliament to oversee the vote echoed the latter sentiment, dismissing Kyiv’s criticism that the vote was held at the barrel of a gun.

"It is a little bit peculiar that the people who say that had a bit of street rioting and got into power like that," said Frank Creyelman, Crimean election observer.

The change-over in Kyiv helped spark the crisis, but concerns about Russia’s intentions toward its neighbors have been long in the making.

Many are now watching what Moscow’s next step might be in other parts of Ukraine.