SIMFEROPOL, March 06. /ITAR-TASS/. The Supreme Council of the Autonomous Ukrainian Republic of Crimea, where Russians constitute a majority, has made a principled decision for the autonomy to secede from Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation, a deputy prime minister of Crimea said Thursday.
First Deputy Crimean Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev also told Itar-Tass that the issue would be put to a referendum on the status of Crimea that would take place on March 16.
An explanatory note to the Crimean parliament’s resolution says that “nationalist forces who seized power as a result of an anti-constitutional coup grossly violate Ukraine’s Constitution and laws, inalienable rights and freedoms of citizens, including the right to life, freedom of thought and speech, the right to speak the native language.”
“Extremist groups have made a number of attempts to penetrate Crimea with the aim to aggravate the situation, escalate tensions and illegally seize power,” it says.
Ukraine’s legitimate president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in a violent uprising in February. He fled Ukraine. The Ukrainian unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, appointed an interim head of state, set early presidential elections and approved a new government, which Crimea does not recognize.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed the recent developments in Ukraine were “an anti-constitutional coup” and “an armed seizure of power.” Putin added that Yanukovich remained the only legitimate Ukrainian president as no official impeachment procedures had been carried out, and added that Ukraine's parliament was “partially” legitimate.
What Crimean parliament said
The explanatory note to the Crimean parliament’s resolution says that “in order to implement the will of the Crimean population and in connection with the absence of legitimate bodies of state power in Ukraine, in line with Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the Crimean Supreme Council rules:
1) To accede to the Russian Federation as a constituent member;
2) To set an all-Crimean referendum, including the city of Sevastopol (which does not make part of the republic of Crimea) for March 16, 2014.
The following questions will be put to the referendum:
1) Do you support reunification of Crimea with Russia as a constituent member of the Russian Federation?
2) Do you support the reinstatement of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine?
The second option (to remain part of Ukraine) apparently suggests a broader autonomy for Crimea than it has now.
After the Crimean Supreme Council’s meeting, one deputy went outside to speak to people who gathered in front of the Council and announced the decision. A few thousand people carrying flags of Russia and Crimea gathered in front of the building.
Explaining why the referendum will be held on such a tight schedule, Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of Crimea’s Supreme Council, said “the situation demanded that.”
“We have a huge burden of political responsibility on us, and we have to accept it,” Konstantinov said Thursday. “We have to complete this distance fast now.”
He said there had been yet no consultations with the Russian authorities. “We have only held dialogue with the Crimeans,” the speaker said, adding that in line with public opinion polls, over 75% of Crimean residents were ready to support Crimea’s accession to Russia. He said the Crimean authorities did not trust the new Ukrainian authorities.
Konstantinov is expected to travel to Moscow for consultations soon to clarify Russia’s principled position on Crimea’s accession.
“Moscow’s reaction is important to us. We have formulated our position,” he said.
“The State Duma [lower house of Russia’s parliament], the Federation Council [upper house] and the president should make the decision on the start of the procedure [to adopt a new constituent member],” Konstantinov said.
Russia’s official reaction
After the Crimean parliament’s decision to make Crimea a constituent member of Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Russian Security Council members, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
The leader of the A Just Russia party, Sergei Mironov, did not rule out that a bill he had submitted on a simplified procedure for Russia to adopt part of a foreign state as a new constituent member could be adopted next week.
“Speaking explicitly, I submitted this draft law for the sake of Crimea,” Mironov said.
On February 28, A Just Russia submitted to the State Duma an amendment to the 2001 law on the procedure to establish a new constituent member of the Russian Federation.
In line with the amendment, Russia may adopt part of another country as a new constituent member of the Russian Federation in two cases: 1) if residents of the territory have voted to join Russia at a referendum or 2) if the legitimate bodies of state power of the territory (making part of a foreign state) have asked Russia to be allowed to join it.
According to Ukrainian state statistics service data, as of late 2013, Russians accounted for 58.5%, Ukrainians for 24.3%, Crimean Tatars for 12.1%, Belarusians for 1.4% and Armenians for 1.1% in Crimea.
In line with the main regional statistics body, as of early 2014, Crimea had a population of 1,959,000 people. Ukraine has an estimated population of some 45 million.
In 1783, Russian Empress Catherine the Great conquered Crimea and it became part of the Russian Empire. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Crimea became the Crimean People’s Republic. It changed hands a few times in the following years, and eventually became the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, in 1921.
In 1945, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was transformed into the Crimean Region, part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
In 1954, First Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party’s Central Committee, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea to the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine. In 1992, it was renamed the Republic of Crimea. It received broader autonomy, adopted its Constitution and introduced the post of republic president. In 1995, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, canceled Crimea’s Constitution and abolished the post of Crimea’s president.
In 1998, Crimea’s new Constitution entered into force and the Republic of Crimea was renamed the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, part of Ukraine. Crimea has remained in that capacity until now.
Latest developments in Crimea
Following President Viktor Yanukovych’s departure from his official residence outside Kiev in February 2014, the Verkhovna Rada reinstated the 2004 Ukrainian Constitution that gave broader powers to the Ukrainian parliament. The parliament also canceled the law on the fundamentals of the state language policy, which had given Russian the status of a regional language in 13 out of 27 Ukrainian regions, including Crimea.
Clashes were reported in Crimea between pro-Russian and anti-Russian protesters. A number of media also claimed Russian armed forces blocked some military facilities in Crimea. But top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, denied any operations by Russian armed forces in Crimea.
When asked whether Russian soldiers had been involved in some operations in Crimea after Yanukovych had been ousted, Putin said at Tuesday’s news conference on Ukraine in his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo in the Moscow Region that “these were local self-defense forces.”
Earlier some media reports said servicemen in uniforms similar to Russian ones without insignia were seen at different locations in Crimea.
On March 1, Sergei Aksyonov, the chairman of Crimea’s Council of Ministers, addressed Russian President Putin with a request “to provide assistance in ensuring peace and calm on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.”
Aksyonov said he made the address because he realized his “responsibility for the life and security of the citizens.” The Russian presidential administration said March 1 that Moscow would not leave the request unattended.
Russia leases from Ukraine a naval base in Crimea’s port city of Sevastopol and has its Black Sea Fleet deployed there. During Yanukovych’s presidency, which started in 2010, Moscow and Kiev agreed to extend Russia’s military presence in Crimea until 2042 — a deal the then Ukrainian opposition sharply criticized.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, on March 1 authorized the use Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine “until the situation normalizes” in the country. During Tuesday’s press conference, Putin said that “so far, there is no need” to use the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, recently said Yanukovych had written a letter to Putin dated March 1 asking him to use Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine “to reinstate legality, peace, law and order, stability and protect the Ukrainian population.”
Meanwhile, the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea plans to reinforce self-defense units guarding checkpoints in the republic to “prevent possible provocateurs from getting into Crimean territory,” a local official told Itar-Tass. “Volunteers and special purpose troops are inspecting vehicles and trains,” he said.
he residents of Sevastopol, a city on the Crimean Peninsula which is not part of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea but has the status of a national significance city in Ukraine, as well as activists, volunteer groups and self-defense units gathered Thursday morning near the Sevastopol department of the Ukrainian Security Service, an Itar-Tass correspondent reported from the scene.
Those gathered said they aimed to prevent Mikhail Salva, who had been appointed the head of the department by current Kiev authorities on Wednesday evening, from taking office.
Sevastopol still pays taxes to Kiev, and expects that funds from the Ukrainian state budget will be allocated to the city, Sevastopol’s head Aleksei Chalyi said.
“Until March 30, we will be fulfilling all financial commitments to Kiev. We will not implement illegitimate decrees and instructions made by the new Ukrainian authorities since February 21, for example, the law on languages,” Chalyi said.
“Should Kiev wage an economic war against us, we are ready for it,” Chalyi said at a meeting with veterans of the Great Patriotic War (a term used in Russia and other former Soviet republics to describe hostilities on the eastern fronts of World War II).
Chalyi also said that if there are problems with the allocation of funds from the state budget, then money from “a stabilization fund” containing donations from compatriots both from Russia and across the world will be used.
The Crimean authorities have started consultations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Vladimir Konstantinov told Itar-Tass on Thursday.
Meanwhile, independent ministries and departments have been formed in Crimea: the ministries of justice, the interior, emergency situations, industrial policy, fuel and energy, information and mass communications. Crimea also has its own prosecutor’s office, security service, guard department, customs, tax and penitentiary services as well as social funds.
Reaction of Russian State Duma, EU ambassador
Deputy speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Sergei Neverov from the ruling United Russia party, called the Crimean parliament’s decision “historic.”
Another deputy speaker, Sergei Zheleznyak from United Russia, sees the key task of Russian parliamentarians in ensuring that “the multiethnic people of Ukraine, Crimeans, nationals who will take part in referendums of their regions, have an opportunity to express their will freely without any interference or pressure from outside.”
Another State Duma deputy speaker, Ivan Melnikov from the Communist Party, said the question put to referendum in Crimea was “natural and long overdue.” “The Communists welcome the fact that the question has been raised. But the decision should be up to the Crimeans, and Russia will accept any answer they will give,” he emphasized.
The head of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States - a loose association of former Soviet republics), Leonid Slutsky, said any issues regarding accession of Crimea should be considered after the referendum.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s Ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombinski said the issue of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine could only be decided at an all-Ukrainian referendum, rather than an all-Crimean referendum.
History of recent protests in Ukraine
Kiev suspended work on an association agreement with the European Union a few days prior to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
The Eastern Partnership program is an EU project to develop ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
The Ukrainian authorities refused to sign the deal at the Vilnius summit, opting for closer ties with Russia instead. Moscow then slashed the natural gas price for Ukraine to $268 from some $400 per 1,000 cubic meters and decided to provide its neighbor with a $15 billion loan.
Kiev’s refusal to sign the deal with the EU triggered mass anti-government protests in Ukraine, which sometimes turned into riots.
The Ukrainian authorities adopted tougher laws for public order violations in mid-January, which triggered another wave of protests that sometimes turned violent. The laws were later repealed.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned on January 28, and the then legitimate Ukrainian authorities decided to pardon participants of riots on condition protesters vacated state and local power institutions they had seized. The amnesty law entered into force February 2, but opposition leaders reacted defiantly.
Protesters had time until February 17 to vacate seized state and local power institutions, unblock Grushevsky Street in downtown Kiev near Maidan (Independence Square, the symbol of Ukrainian protests), and other streets and squares across the country except those where peaceful protest rallies were being held. But riots and seizures of buildings continued on February 18.
A new wave of riots started in Kiev on February 18 after opposition supporters tried to march to the building of the Verkhovna Rada in support of a constitutional reform cutting presidential powers.
The new riots started eventually caused President Yanukovych to leave his residence outside Kiev and then leave Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada took over, appointing its new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, as acting president, and approving a new government led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Batkivshchyna party.
Yanukovych has called the developments “a coup.” New Ukrainian Interior Minister Avakov has said Yanukovych and other officials are on a wanted list for involvement in “mass murder” during protests.
Meanwhile, a recent intercepted phone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton gave grounds to assume snipers who had shot at protesters and police in Kiev had allegedly been hired by radical Ukrainian protest leaders.
Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds have turned to Kiev’s medical institutions for help since the latest violence that started February 18.
Russia has decided to suspend the allocation of the regular tranche of its financial aid package to Ukraine following the coup in Ukraine.