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Crimea Secession Vote: How, why and what next?



SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) - The Ukrainian region of Crimea votes Sunday in a hastily organized referendum to break away and join Russia, in defiance of broad condemnation from the international community, which has described the process as illegitimate.

Moscow-backed politicians in Crimea, a territory of 2 million people, argue the move will ensure the local population protection from radical nationalism that they say surged after President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee Ukraine. No immediate proof of specific threats has been produced, however, and the leadership in Kiev describes what is happening in Crimea as a crude land grab.

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THE ROAD TO REFERENDUM

Ukraine's territorial uncertainty has its roots in the protests that led to the downfall of Yanukovych, who enjoyed support from the Kremlin and had his base of support in the mainly ethnic Russian-populated southeast. The demonstrations began in November when Yanukovych abruptly refused to sign a long-anticipated political association and free trade agreement with the European Union, opting instead for closer ties with Russia.

Weeks of peaceful rallies were punctured by bursts of violence, which culminated with the death of dozens of protesters in late February.

A peace deal between the government and opposition was overseen by EU diplomats, but that arrangement was overtaken within days when protesters took control of the capital, Kiev, and police abandoned posts. The parliament voted to remove the president from power and soon appointed a replacement.

An early proposal in the new parliament that would have seen the status of the Russian language downgraded was greeted with alarm in some parts of the country. Russia has also loudly expressed indignation over what it claims is the inexorable rise of radical nationalist groups, a concern that critics suggest is an exercise in disingenuousness.

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CAMPAIGN

The referendum ballot will feature two questions: One, to grant Crimea greater autonomy within Ukraine. The other, which is widely expected to secure the bulk of support, envisions annexation by Russia.

What little actual campaigning there's been in Crimea has taken place under the often menacing gaze of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow. In the face of overwhelming evidence, Russia denies it has deployed any troops.

The pro-annexation message has been crude but effective, and is aimed at instilling alarm over the new Ukrainian government's purported design to marginalize the country's ethnic Russian population.

One billboard showed two maps of Crimea: one emblazoned in the tricolor of the Russian flag. The other shows it against a crimson background and stamped with a swastika.

Supporters of the referendum have argued it is little different from the independence vote to take place in Scotland later this year. But British officials argue the latter vote has been two years in the waiting and is being held in a climate of free discussion. Crimeans have had less than two weeks to ponder on their referendum and public debate has been notable for its absence.

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THE FUTURE

Crimean authorities say if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons don't surrender after the election, they will be considered "illegal."

On the diplomatic front, Russia looks ever more isolated as it faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations and the ambivalence of China.

Leaders of the mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar minority, who make up more than one-tenth of the region's population, insist they want to remain part of Ukraine and worry about what fate awaits them in a country they have no desire to join.

Inside Russia, President Vladimir Putin has fared well from his hard-line stance on Crimea and enjoyed a bump in popularity ratings. Still, if public criticism of his policies is rare, it's in no small part because the already embattled independent media has faced a renewed onslaught of state-led intimidation.

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REMAINDER OF UKRAINE

Once Crimea's pro-Russian leadership seals some vague semblance of legitimacy through the referendum, attention will likely swing to eastern Ukraine, another heavily Russian-populated area in which the central government is struggling to stamp its authority. The past few days have seen ugly confrontations between pro-Russians and pro-Ukrainians, and anxieties are stirring about the potential for that situation to worsen.

A national presidential election set for May 25 is seen by the interim authorities as an opportunity to restore democratic processes in a country currently run by an interim post-revolutionary Cabinet. Perceptions of an uncertain security situation could undermine confidence in what that vote produces, however.

Join the discussion

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welcome bozo March 16 2014 at 7:20 AM

why in the flock do we care and why are we threatening to get involved. it is an illegal act for the U.S. to get involved in a sovereign nations internal affairs. if ordered to intervene the U.S. military should refuse those orders as illegal and avoid starting a war with only one ending, the end of mankind. why the flock are the idiots that are elected to guide us so stupid. can`t we get a good president who doesn`t want his OWN war. i may be visited by the secret service but our current, socialist, foreign born president is retarted.

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vittelone1967 March 16 2014 at 3:58 AM

Let's talk China...in the last several months; they have been losing jobs. China is going to become frantic trying to keep their own economy afloat- with thousands of empty condos around, and production falling...do you honestly believe they care about an itch on someone else's back?

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bnevrgivup March 16 2014 at 2:57 AM

Despite all the turmoil in this world there is change in the midst, some countries such as Russia are showing signs of a new recognition that most citizens are tired of war, it's horrible costs. 50k people protested in Moscow earlier today to end the conflict and the agressive actions by the Putin, tyranny. In Eygpt there is a more progressive change and move toward peace and stability, slow but diliberate. Had the MB stayed in power real Tyranny would have taken a foothold and kept in place through terroizing the people. But they stood up and said no! Change is coming toward a more peaceful world. Russia will regret this action in time as people stand to be heard and choose peace over constant turmoil.

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vittelone1967 March 16 2014 at 3:51 AM

My name is Tom. I am only am man who has authority over his own life and world as seen through my own eyes. With that admitted, I have made friends with Ukrainians over the years, and almost all speak Russian. That is not the issue here. The real issue here is economics. Ukraine provides Russia with dramatic economic impact...this is part of the issue. The other is control, and the illusion of power. The truth is no one holds power. We are all born, live, and die while the earth still remains to provide for others through their individual delusions; just as I and everyone else does now. What I am wanting to say is this- a great, any great leader considers the least among their own people while working toward the greatness of all their people. We here in America suffer too from a lack of great, or even decent leadership. I see the lesser choice being made by all nations involved, and no consideration being made to Ukrainians, Russians, Europeans, Americans, Chinese...nobody. I really don't. Sanctions will lead to economic slowdown, or, worse case, ramped up militarily. If it does the latter- the only ones affected will be the innocent. Where is any greatness in that, or any perceived greatness through flawed ambitious eyes? I want to admit that my own viewpoint might be flawed, but Mr. Putin; if you were not where you are now, and a citizen let's say Ukrainian in the town of Aleksandrovsk right now...how would you feel, and what would be going through your own mind? I hope this message gets through to you, and am quite sure you have eyes searching the web. If it goes to conflict...know I shall volunteer against you in the name of freedom, and for the innocent among us all.

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noeproductions March 16 2014 at 12:52 AM

You can't blame this on Obama. Russia has nukes, it would be wise to proceed with caution. US need to mind their own business and address the problems in our country.

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1 reply
teamcorsairbots noeproductions March 16 2014 at 2:02 AM

US has nukes too. Neither side will use them, even if this does come to blows, because of MAD. Mutually assured destruction.

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2 replies
poker25005 teamcorsairbots March 16 2014 at 3:53 AM

Problem is the US needs to make a military strike but not use Nukes. I think the U.S. and it allies should block the Black Sea so that the Russians can't get their ships out of Crimea or get any other supplies in and that would allow a missile attack from sea if necessary along with a limited bombing run. When it is over with they can clean up their own mess.

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ronrsj teamcorsairbots March 16 2014 at 4:02 AM

It does make one hope most earnestly for rationality. A glimmer of optimism can be found in the fact that we're coming up on seventy years, said to be the number of a man's days, since the only two uses in anger of nuclear weapons. Such restraint, despite large numbers of much more powerful weapons, some in rather worrisome hands, has been a good survival strategy. Let's not blow it.

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zzyxx March 15 2014 at 9:49 PM

they will soon be russian........this admin is spineless......and putin knows it.

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cardiodane4 March 16 2014 at 12:53 AM

The Russians will do what they like,Nobody fears Obama.He means nothing.

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waltervlod March 16 2014 at 2:43 AM

Too bad that the Ukrainians trusted the Kremlin 20 years ago when Russia promised to protect them from invading foes.
How ironic!

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prvrtbl1 March 16 2014 at 12:25 AM

wonder why KERRY wanted russia to wait after the elections to invade?

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david.konen March 15 2014 at 9:18 PM

Personally, I don't see WHY both Ukraine and Russia should play "tug-of-war" or "chicken" with the peninsula of Crimea. I think Putin just wants to slowly SEIZE all of the countries which had formed come the END of the old Soviet Union (and re-establish the Soviet Union as a superpower, becoming a nation we would have to reckon with).

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1 reply
jslrsj david.konen March 15 2014 at 11:07 PM

Why should we care about Ukraine , let them fight their own war, after all it was peaceful over there when Russia had them under control, just like in Iraq when Sadden was in control, all we did was start a civil war and ran out when their oil was not going to be free.

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