Ukraine’s Crimea has been suffering quite a bit of political and ethnic unrest following the ouster of the country’s now former President Viktor Yanukovich. In fact, reports from Ukraine’s pro-Russian stronghold, Crimea, are that at least 60 unidentified armed men have seized the Crimean government building and raised the Russian flag.
A group of armed men, not wearing any type of identifiable insignia, have reportedly taken control of Crimea’s regional government headquarters and parliament, barricading themselves inside. Reports from Ukraine’s Crimean capital, Simferopol are that up to 60 well armed men took the building over night and at present appear to control the premises. The seizure comes just a day after violent clashes took place in Crimea between pro-EU supporters of the change in Ukraine’s leadership and pro-Russian critics of the recent actions in Kiev. The actions show that both political and ethnic tensions are running high in the majority-Russian speaking Crimea.
The Tatars, a Turkic Ethnic group native to Crimea, joined with pro-EU Ukrainians in a clash with pro-Russian demonstrators recently and the tensions may have led to the recent developments. Even with the support of the Tatars however, Ukrainians supportive of the movement in Kiev are still a minority in Crimea.
Russia, which has been keeping a close eye on the developments in Ukraine, just recently put on a major military readiness exercise large enough to get international attention. Though the military exercise was not put on with specific reference to planned action against Ukraine, it did get the attention of the US, drawing a sharp warning from US officials frowning on any possible Russian intervention in Ukraine.
According to at least one notable local, Refat Chubarov, a respected Tatar, those who took the government building had not yet made any demands. Reports however differ, as officials of the regional government have also reported that they have begun to negotiate with the armed men barricaded in the building in efforts to resolve the situation. Thus, reports vary concerning exactly what the latest is on the ground concerning specifically who has taken control of the government buildings and why, however it was a Russian flag that was raised after the buildings were seized.
There are a number of reasons why Ukraine as a whole is strategically important to Russia. To start, there are valuable pipeline’s running through the country which allow Russian energy to be exported to Europe. There is also the sheer size of Ukraine and its proximity to Russia. If Ukraine as a whole is strategically important however, Crimea is immensely valuable at present. Perhaps the key reason for the importance of Crimea is that part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet occupies a Crimean port in the city of Sevastopol. Due to part of Russia’s fleet using the Crimean port, the importance of the location is obvious. Combined with the huge Russian majority in Crimea which denounces what it calls “nationalistic fascists” and what “they” have done in Kiev, it is easy to see the rising tensions coming to a head in the region.
What may become of the situation in Crimea has yet to be determined. Ukraine however, already rocked for months by unrest and violence in Kiev, now has seen armed men seize the regional government and parliament building in Crimea and raise a Russian flag. What negotiations will be able to yield is also unclear. As tensions rise in the region, Ukraine and its people find themselves teetering on potentially more unrest. This time, ground zero looks to be moving towards Crimea.
By Daniel Worku