Armed militias of ethnic Russians took to the streets of the Crimean capital of Simferopol today, seizing a number of government buildings and raising a Russian flag over parliament, calling for secession from the Ukraine and a potential return to the Russian federation.
Secessionist sentiment has been growing in the Crimea since protesters in Kiev imposed regime change on Ukraine, replacing the pro-Russian President Yanukovych with pro-Western figures.
What started as mostly peaceful rallies in Sevastopol, the Crimean port city that is the base of the Russian Navy, turned violent yesterday, when ethnic Tatars attacked the protesters, insisting they would “eliminate” all secessionist sentiment among the majority Russians of Crimea. Today the Russian struck back in force.
The Crimean Parliament, for its part, is moving toward giving in to the protesters’ demands, and has agreed to a referendum which would give Crimeans the option of voting for outright secession, autonomy, or some affiliation with Russia.
Russia, for its part, has promised to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Yet if the Crimeans themselves manage to secede and want closer ties with Russia, it is difficult to imagine them being turned away.