The country is simultaneously more united and more divided today, and the interim government is gaining control or disbanding part of deposed president Yanukovych’s security apparatus. At the same time, rival protests have been held in east Ukraine, and there’s now a growing rift between those who wish to declare independence from Ukraine and those who wish to unify it under new leadership.
Here is a livestream of the events:
1225 GMT: Ehko Moskvy blogger Andrei Malgin had offered a handy historical breakdown of “official” demographics in Crimea, from the 18th century until 2001. We’ve translated the whole thing below:
Russians in the Crimea: History of the Issue
I wrote the other day already what a pity it is for me as a native of Sevastopol that the Crimea ended up as part of a neighboring state. A state which thanks to the efforts of Putin will hardly remain friendly in the foreseeable future. It is a pity, yes.
Nevertheless, regarding the “native Russian Crimea,” I have the following to say.
The percentage of the Russian population in Crimea:
1795 год — 4.3 % Russian
1816 год — 4.8 % Russian
1835 год — 4.4 % Russian
1850 год — 6.6 % Russian
1858 год — 12.6 % Russian
1864 год — 28.5 % Russian
1897 год — 33.1 % Russian
1917 год — 41.2 % Russian
1920 год — 44.1 % Russian
1926 год — 42.2 % Russian
1934 год — 44 % Russian
1937 год — 47.7 % Russian
1939 год — 49.6 % Russian
Then the war begins. In 1941, Stalin deported all the Germans from the Crimea (4.5% of the whole population). During the occupation of the Crimea, the Hitlerites deported and annihilated the Jews (5.8% of the population), and in May 1944, Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars (19.4% of the population before the war). In June of that year, all the Bulgarians (1.4%), Armenians (1.1%) and Greeks (1.8%) were deported by Soviet authorities from the Crimea.
As a result of war, occupation and deportation, the population of the Crimean was triply reduced. The result:
1944 год – 75.0 % Russian
1959 год — 71.4 % Russian
1979 год — 68.4 % Russian
1989 год — 67.1 % Russian
2001 год – 58.3 % Russian
In fact, according to the census of 2001, the Russians were concentrated in certain districts of the Crimea (for example, in Feodosiya, Sevastopol and Yalta). In the following districts of Crimea, Russians even now make up the minority:
Belogorodsky district – 49.20%
Dzhankoysky district – 38.90%
Krasnogvardeysky district – 48.70%
Krasnoperekopsky district – 33.20%
Pervomaysky district – 35.10%
Razdolnensky district — 41.10%
Saksy district – 45.20%
Simferopolsky district – 49.40%
Sovetsky district – 48.50%
I am not saying this so to infringe upon the interests of Russians. I’m saying this because the Crimea is a territory settled by representatives of many ethnic groups, not a single one of which can claim that this is its native land. It is very dangerous to incite inter-ethnic strife there. It can explode.
If the purpose is to incite it, then yes. But then say frankly that this is your purpose – to burn everything to hell.
2135 GMT: The Globe and Mail has run a provocative claim – that Russian-backed fighters are already establishing checkpoints inside Ukraine, between two key Crimean cities:
The Globe and Mail saw least a dozen men wearing fatigues – supported by an armoured personnel carrier – standing under a Russian flag at a checkpoint erected roughly halfway along the 80-kilometre road from Sevastopol to Simferopol, putting it close to the administrative border that separates the Sevastopol municipality from the rest of Crimea and Ukraine.
The men, some wearing balaclavas, used flashlights to look inside each vehicle approaching Sevastopol. They reportedly later told journalists they were local “volunteers.”
Earlier in the day, at least two armoured personnel carriers were seen maneuvering in the centre of this port city, which has historic ties to Russia and hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet under an agreement between Moscow and Kiev. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Kremlin was “carefully watching what is happening in Crimea” and would take “measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet.”
Earlier, RFE/RL posted a video which reportedly shows concrete barriers being erected on the roads near the entrance to Sevastopol.
“Today when Ukraine is only beginning to heal its wounds from the tragic events, when the wounded are still in hospitals, when the tears have still not dried on the eyes of mothers mourning their husbands, sons, and daughters who died in recent weeks, I call on the jewish community of Ukraine to come together and put the maximum efforts into helping the whole Ukrainian people, to endure this difficult time, and as quickly as possible restore the country, making it a prosperous state.
Unfortunately, there are forces who are interested in destabilization of the situation who wish to sow various types of provocations.
Recently, some foreign publications have made inaccurate and sometimes even false and openly provocative statements in my name, or about me, regarding my statements on the Jewish community of Ukraine, the situation in Ukraine and also defaming my name.
Therefore, I appeal to the whole media with a request not to sow panic, not to take advantage of past and current events in the country and thus not provoke anti-Semitic sentiments with their ill-conceived articles and statements. My official position can always be learned from the Jewish community site here:
I state that all of us — the Jewish community of Ukraine — are a single whole and are prepared to make our contribution to the development and prosperity of the Ukrainian state.”
On 22 February, the Israeli daily Maariv reported Rabbi Azman as calling on Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even country if possible. According to Haaretz, Rabbi Azman had issued a warning to Jews:
“I told my congregation to leave the city center or the city all together and if possible the country too,” Rabbi Azman told Maariv. “I don’t want to tempt fate,” he added, “but there are constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions.”
No such warnings were published on the Jewish Community of Kiev’s website at http://sinagoga.kiev.ua
After the statement yesterday from Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, Rabbi Azman may have felt the need to make a call for calm.
2043 GMT: Ukraine may be getting more money from the U.S., but it will have to live without the help of Russian banks, banks which have played a major role in personal and corporate finance in Ukraine:
Russia biggest banks, VTB & Sberbank, suspend loans to Ukrainian clients. Time for Western banks to take their patch @vesti_news у
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) February 26, 2014
BREAKING: Kerry says US plans $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 26, 2014
2024 GMT: Pravda has conducted an interview with a Russian political analyst. Noteworthy moments — he says Yanukovych is not really pro Russia, he calls Yulia Tymoshenko the “Orange Princess,” and he suggests that the Russians should pull their support for Ukraine, wait for their economy to implode, and then bail them out again.
What’s interesting is that other thinkers believe that Russia pulled its support for Yanukovych (jump to update 1550). Some of that sentiment is echoed in this translated article.
2018 GMT: Here’s a controversy. The following is a summary of a story from Smart News.
Russia has put its troops in the Western and Central Military Districts on Alert, smartnews.ru reported this morning. In an update at 14:00 Moscow time, smartnews.ru said that Putin gave an unexpected order to the Ministry of Defense to hold exercises in two stages for the next six days.
Other troops in the region are also to be put on alert.
Sergei Shoigu, Defense Minister, said at a meeting of the Defense Ministry today, “In accordance with the president’s orders, today at 14:00 all troops of the Western Military District will be put on alert and also formations and military units located on its territory, the 2nd Army of the Central Military District, the command of the Aerospace Defense, the Airborne Troops, and the Long-Range and Military Transport Aviations.
Russian experts say such sudden tests of the Russian Army will help to raise it actual combat readiness and establish close cooperation among various forces but also train soldiers to react instantly to possible threats, says smartnews.ru. Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the journal Natsional’naya Oborona said the exercises will help tell “what are its strong and weak sides and how prepared the troops are under conditions of a rapid onset of war.”
Earlier Britain’s Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said London would be watching the maneuvers closely, said smartnews.ru, quoting Reuters. “We would urge all parties to allow the Ukrainian people to settle their internal differences and then to determine their own future without external interference,” The Moscow Times quoted Hammond as saying.
BUT this is where things get controversial. Reuters has pulled the statement from UK’s Defense Secretary, Phillip Hammond, from their articles. A Google search shows, however, that Reuters did have the quote in their articles at one point:
Why would they do this and why does it matter?
Let’s recap: In our update at 1500 we noted that the announcement of the emergency military drills came hours before the Minister of Defence, Sergey Shoigu, said that the drills were unrelated. In between those two events, two things happened: UK’s Defence Minister, Philip Hammond, responded to the threats, and the value of the Russian ruble fell through the floor.
All of this raises two questions: Did Russia talk down the threat to stop their currency from free falling, to escape international scrutiny, or for some other reason?
Did Reuters remove the quote from their articles in light of assurances from the Kremlin that this massive and unannounced mobilization of forces is, they promise, unrelated to the crisis in Ukraine?
1951 GMT: The Ukrainian Rada has announced many cabinet positions. Here is the latest list:
- Prime Minister – Arseniy Yatsenyuk [Batkivshchyna]
- Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration – Boris Tarasyuk [Batkivshchyna]
- Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Policy – Olga Bohomolets
- Anticorruption Bureau – Tatiana Chornovol
- Lustration committee – Ehor Sobolev
- Minister for justice – Pavel Petrenko [Batkivshchyna]
- Minister for the Economy – Pavel Sheremeta
- Minister for Education – Sergei Kvit
- Minister for Social Policy – Lyudmilla Denisova [Batkivshchyna]
- Minister for the Environment – Andrei Mokhnik [Svoboda]
- Minister for Culture – Evgeny Nischuk
- Minister for Foreign Affairs – Andriy Deschina
- Minister for agriculture – Oleksandr Mirnyi [Svoboda]
- Cabinet Minister – Ostap Semerak [Batkivshchyna]
- Minister for Health – Oleh Musiy
- Minister for Fuel and Energy – Yuri Prodan [Batkivshchyna]
- Minister for Youth and Sport – Dmitry Bulatov
- Minister of Internal Affairs – Arsen Avakov [Batkivshchyna]
- Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine – Viktoria Syumar and Dmytro Yarosh [Right Sector] (not yet given his consent)
- Minister for Infrastructure – tba
- Minister for Defence – tba
1808 GMT: Here is a report from RBK, one of Russia’s biggest business reporters. This report came ahead of LifeNews’ report. The repetition by LifeNews, an agency with widely suspected ties to the FSB and the Russian government, may be taken as further confirmation of the validity of this report.
Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose location has not been known in recent days, is in Russia, says a source for RBK who is a major Russian businessman. The information was confirmed by a high-placed Russian official.
One of these sources told RBK that Yanukovych arrived in Moscow Tuesday night. According to the source, the deposed president was seen in the Hotel Ukraine (now the Radisson Royal). This was confirmed by a source close to its management (an official representative of the hotel refused to provide information about guests). A group of people spent almost all of Tuesday night until Wednesday morning in a club restaurant on the 11th floor. According to one of the sources, special agents were deployed for this event and heightened measures of security were in place; hotel personnel were not allowed to enter.
At the Hotel Ukraine, Yanukovych is not detained, says one of the sources. According to him, the now deposed president of Ukraine is now in Barvikha, site of the Federal State Institution Barvikha Clinical Sanatorium of the Russian presidential administration. Viktor Khrekov, press secretary of Vladimir Kozhin, head of the presidential administration told RBK that he has no such information, and at the sanatorium itself, a spokesman said no such guest has been registered. But the official with whom RBK spoke earlier confirmed that Yanukovych really is located in the suburb of Moscow.
The Ukrainian Embassy was unreachable for comment today. Aleksandr Lukashevich, official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry replied to a query from RBK that his office is involved in foreign policy, and not the whereabouts of certain citizens.
One of Yanukovych’s closest associates, Viktor Pshonka, former prosecutor general of Ukraine, may also be in Moscow. A man who appeared to be him was spotted by an RBK correspondent in the hallway of the Hotel Ukraine on Wednesday morning.
— LIFENEWS (@lifenews_ru) February 26, 2014
1702 GMT: AFP correspondent Maria Antonova has caught out the Kremlin in a lie.
In a statement on its web site today, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed alarm about alleged “relentless rioting of extremists…convinced of their own impunity” who were ostensibly continuing to “impose their will and instill their orders” in Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry claimed that after “destabilization of the political situation” rioters had now supposedly turned their sights on a “fragile inter-church and interfaith peace which had been preserved until recently.”
The Kremlin claimed “threats of physical reprisals and destruction of churches had increased” and that in recent days “attempts at a forceful seizure of Orthodox sites, sacred not only for Ukraine but for the whole Russian World” had been made on the Kiev Monastery of the Caves and the Holy Dormition, famous for its saints’ tombs.
The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukrainian activists of “provoking an even greater schism in Ukrainian society” and called on “sane forces” in Ukraine not to allow “further degradation of the situation.”
But according to the Ukrainian Monastery itself, in a statement published on its website three days ago, “the information appearing in many media outlets about the storming of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves on the night of 23 February does not correspond to reality.”
In fact, “EuroMaidan activists came to the Monastery due to provocative rumors that ‘sacred relics were being removed from the monastery site’ and stood peacefully by the entrance” to the building.
Clergy report that worship services are proceeding on schedule, including prayers for peace and for those killed in the unrest.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 26, 2014
Love Ukraine RT @ChristopherJM: Bike rentals there, too. RT @Emmawells1: Now they sell maps of Yanukovich’s residence pic.twitter.com/HJGAsBCEBE — Stephanie Yamkovenko (@S_Yamkovenko) February 26, 2014
But journalists are also working to expose Yanukovych’s vast wealth:
But the most important discovery came when a group of journalists found thousands of documents floating near a dock that juts from the waterfront residence into the Kiev Sea. What they couldn’t grab floating on the surface, divers recovered from the seafloor. The documents, which were published online Tuesday, reveal how much these lavish things actually cost: $2.3 million for dining room decorations, $800 for fish food, nearly $1 million for a lawn watering system and $17,000 for tablecloths — the list goes on. In all, nearly 200 folders filled with thousands of invoices, contracts, insurance policies, cash payment orders and other documents were recovered from the murky depths. The edges of some had been scorched, suggesting that before fleeing Yanukovych had first ordered them to be burned before they were tossed into the sea.
1625 GMT: Yale University’s Timothy Snyder has published an article on CNN in which he argues that Western governments need to take emergency measures to ensure that Ukraine does not collapse, including the sanctioning of officials who may be laundering money out of the country:
They need very significant European and American financial support. This could include loans, quick free trade negotiations, financial institutions that offer microcredits, and visa-free travel for normal Ukrainians — not just the billionaires. Ukrainian oligarchs have parked hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in Western banks: some of it, just possibly, illegally. Such accounts could be investigated promptly. Direct financial assistance would have to be conditional upon further reforms that ensure the restoration and the preservation of the rule of law.
1618 GMT: RFE/RL reports (citing Espreso TV) that Mykhaylo Dobkin, the governor of Kharkiv Oblast, is resigning his post to run for president. The Ukrainian security services (SBU) announced just last week that Dobkin is under investigation for inciting separatism.
He suggested that things will not come to a break in Kiev, and stressed that Russia’s ambassador was recalled just so that officials could confer with him to “find out what’s going on.”
1550 GMT: Before Yanukovych fled Kiev, he signed an agreement with opposition politicians that would move up elections and make several other concessions. The deal fell apart when, later that night, the protesters demanded Yanukovych resign, and he fled the capital. But before this happened, a rather important fact has been lost in the drama of what has happened since. Yanukovych was extremely intransigent on resigning or moving up elections. But then, in a meeting with representatives of the European Union, Yanukovych was told he would need to hold early elections or resign. He left he meeting to call Russian President Vladimir Putin, and when he returned his positions had changed. The New York Times describes the scene:
Mr. [Radosław Sikorski, Poland's Foreign Minister] said he told Mr. Yanukovych that the only way to sell a deal to the opposition was to specify when a new presidential election would be held. “You need to declare on what date you’ll resign,” he said he told the president. Mr. Yanukovych “went white,” Mr. Sikorski said. But the deadlock lifted after the Ukrainian leader received a phone call shortly afterward from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “He came back, he was agreeing to limit his time in office,” Mr. Sikorski said. “That made everything possible.”
Ulrich Speck, a research fellow at Carnegie Europe, has written an editorial for the New York Times in which he argues that the West urgently needs to support the interim government to ward of Russia’s influence and sudden economic collapse:
The first and most urgent step for Western leaders is to send unequivocal messages to Moscow that any support by Russia for the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine to break away from the rest of the country would be met harshly, and result in a general reconsideration of relations with Russia on all levels. In parallel, they must make sure that their own resources, and those of the European Union institutions in Brussels, are available to political leaders in Kiev to assist them in their transition to a new regime.
But Speck has also been asking the question of why Yanukovych’s phone call with Putin suddenly changed his course. Today, he posts this on Facebook:
According to what I hear the NY Times was correct: Before Yanukovych agreed to sign the agreement — early presidential elections in December –, he spoke to Putin. Putin apparently told him that the game is over. Which means: a) that Putin played a key role in the course of events (no, Russian influence is not exaggerated), b) Putin decided to drop Yanukovych. Why did he decide to drop Yanukovych? a) he knew that Yanukovych had lost support of military, police; b) he had just received strong messages from Merkel and Obama: if you push Ukraine into civil war, you will have to pay; c) he decided to move to plan B which is: spoil new government by inciting unrest East and South, use economic leverage, count on Western unwillingness to pull Ukraine, and finally get control again through a new leader ready to act as Moscow’s mission chief in Kiev.
Is this is exactly what we are seeing play out? Is Russia’s military escalation designed more to increase tension than anything else?
Why is the US Senate having a TOP SECRET/CLOSED hearing on Ukraine? And why do they call it “The Ukraine?” http://t.co/N48U3S2rWD
— Joshua Kucera (@joshuakucera) February 26, 2014
1521 GMT: The AP quotes a health official as confirmed that at least 20 people were injured in clashes between a pro-Russian protest and a crowd of Tartars in Simferopol earlier today.
A BBC report said that one man was trampled to death (jump to update 1410).
1509 GMT: RFE/RL has reports on criminal probes into Yanukovych:
Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential offices, as well as the national bank and other buildings in Kyiv have been searched as part of an investigation into suspected premeditated murder by Ukraine’s ousted president.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office said today that Yanukovych’s former residence outside Kyiv was also searched.
It said that, apart from Yanukovych, his chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev, former Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka, former Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, and several other officials are being investigated on suspicion of murder linked to three months of unrest that culminated in the ouster of Yanukovych by parliament on February 22.
Oleh Makhnytsky, the acting prosecutor-general, told the Reuters news agency that Ukraine will urgently contact international organizations with an official request to help trace bank accounts and assets controlled by Yanukovych and his allies.
Makhnytsjky accused them of stealing “not millions, but billions” of dollars.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian prosecutors and journalists have worked to recover, and now investigate, many thousands of pages of evidence recovered from Yanukovych’s property and government offices, much of which Yanukovych or his supporters tried to destroy in their rush to flee Kiev. Business News Europe reports that 8 scraps of paper, repieced together by investigators, might tell the story of the theft of billions of dollars:
Eight scraps of paper fit together to point to one of the largest frauds in recent history, with potentially billions of dollars stolen from the Ukrainian state. According to the document fragments retrieved by a bne reporter, in December or later Ukraine’s 18th largest bank, Brokbiznesbank, opened a UAH650m (roughly $77m at the time) credit line for a sham firm involved in money laundering. The document fragments show that the bank’s supervisory board voted to open a credit line of UAH650m to a firm called TOV Virtus XXI – a sham firm with straw men as director and owners, and no employees, offices or public profile, according to bne enquiries.
Earlier journalist investigations by Forbes Ukraine named Virtus XXI as part of a network of sham firms operated by the Brokbiznesbank owner, 28-year-old oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko, to launder the proceeds of politically-protected business schemes and fraud. Kurchenko was the subject of an in-depth investigation by bne only in November.
Thus the $76m loan to Virtus XXI appears to have been simply Kurchenko looting his own bank. And given this and another fraud detailed below were only the 30th and 31st items on the agenda being voted on by the Brokbiznesbank supervisory board at that meeting, it suggests these schemes were only the tip of the iceberg, with the total figure looted from the bank possibly running as high as $1.5bn.
1500 GMT: How significant is this Russian military escalation? The Wall Street Journal reports that a key base mobilized in this action is only 300 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. Also, note the language in the announcement:
“In accordance with the decree of the president, today at 1400 [1000 GMT] troops were put on alert in the Western Military District as well as units stationed with the 2nd Army Central Military District Command involved in aerospace defense, airborne troops and long-range military transport aircraft,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to the Interfax news agency.
So why did Russia step back its rhetoric? Perhaps because the value of its currency entered into a skydive immediately after the military action was announced. Again, Wall Street Journal reports:
The announcement sent the ruble to new lows against the euro and Russian exchanges tumbling.
Hours later, Mr. Shoigu told reporters that the military drills had nothing to do with the situation in Ukraine. Earlier on Wednesday, the head of Russia’s upper house had ruled out military intervention.
“Such a scenario is impossible,” Valentina Matvienko was quoted as saying by Interfax. She added that Russia has no intention of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
1453 GMT: Despite preparing emergency military drills near the border with Ukraine in response to “crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security,” (jump to update 1418), state-owned Voice of Russia carries claims from Russia’s military that the drills are unrelated to Ukraine:
Current check of the troops of Western military district is unrelated to developments in Ukraine, Defense Minister Army Gen. Sergei Shoigu said.
But a closer look at the language shows that what the military is calling an “inspection” the foreign ministry is calling an emergency readiness drill. Once again, Moscow is talking out both sides of its mouth. As we’ve been exploring, so far Russia seems to be working to escalate tensions without committing itself to military action. But it’s now also making preparations for such an action, if that decision is made.
— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) February 26, 2014
Opposition Crimea MPs congratulated the crowd outside the parl w/ victory, asked them to go home & fight for unity pic.twitter.com/gV4UxKlIvY
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) February 26, 2014
Meanwhile, at least for now, Crimea’s secession has been cancelled:
— Chrystyna Lapychak (@chryslap) February 26, 2014
1435 GMT: Where is Yanukovych? Ukraine media outlet glavcom.ua reports that a source, a commander in law enforcement, has told them that Yanukovych is now in Russia with two of his sons. The report says Yanukovych spent a night in Donetsk, then moved to Crimea, and then took a ship to Russia. This is obviously unconfirmed, but an interesting claim.
1418 GMT: A VERY serious escalation of tensions due to today’s actions of the Russian government. First, as we reported earlier, the Berkut, Ukraine’s now-infamous riot police, have been disbanded. But the Berkut are being called back to eastern Ukraine, to the city of Sevastopol, the location of large Russian military bases and the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Washington Post reports:
The new head of the Coordinating Council of the Sevastopol city administration, Alexey Chaly, said Berkut troops would be welcome there, according to a Web site called Sevastopol.su.
But far more serious — the Russian military has announced a series of surprise drills, in what is being seen as a major provocation:
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered surprise military exercises Wednesday and put troops in the area on high alert starting at 2 p.m. Moscow time. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the drills were aimed at checking preparedness “for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security,” but he made no mention of Ukraine. The exercises, due to start Friday and last four days, will also involve elements of the Russian navy and air force, Shoigu said. The exercises, he said, involve the western military district, which abuts Ukraine’s northeastern border and is headquartered in St. Petersburg, and units of the central district, which covers a vast swath across the middle of Russia and is headquartered in the Ural Mountain city of Yekaterinburg. The district closest to the Crimea, the area with the greatest agitation for Russian protection, is not involved.
1410 GMT: Dueling protests have lead to new clashes in Simferopol, in Crimea, today. Crimean Tartars, whose ancestors once controlled the region, have clashed with Russians and Russia supporters who took conquered the area. At least one person was killed, according to the BBC:
In Simferopol, Crimean Tatars chanted “Glory to Ukraine!”, while the pro-Russian activists responded with “Russia!” Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars – whose animus to Russia stretches back to the horrors of Stalin’s deportations during World War II – have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.
The Tatars surged forward and Russians fell and were crushed under each other. We saw one man in his 50s die. Maybe others too
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) February 26, 2014
Insane Russian versus Tartar confrontation outside regional assembly in Simferopol today. pic.twitter.com/DqiSKdIH1J
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) February 26, 2014
— 15MBcn_int (@15MBcn_int) February 26, 2014
1400 GMT: The Berkut, Ukraine’s now-infamous riot police who spearheaded the bloody assaults on Euromaidan protests in Kiev and elsewhere, have officially been disbanded by order of Acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Kyiv Post reports:
“Berkut is gone. I have signed order No. 144 of February 25, 2014, “On the Abolition of Berkut Special Public Security Police Units”, Avakov wrote on Facebook early on Wednesday morning.
On Sunday, the leaders of the Berkut apologized to the protesters, said that they were loyal to the new government, and maintained that they were not guilty of killing civilians. However, the Berkut have become national villains, at least in western provinces like Lviv:
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) February 26, 2014
Officers returning to Lviv dropped to their knees in front of crowds in Lviv who shouted “shame.” One officer promised that they were not part of the killing of protesters, and said that he stands against such violence. With at least some of the Berkut apologetic, and the organization now completely dissolved, the new interim government is one step closer towards ensuring that the security apparatus of the old regime is under control.