Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Crimea Votes for Greater Freedom from Ukraine Self-Determination in Black Sea Region Fuels Tensions between Moscow and Kiev

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Crimea Votes for Greater Freedom from Ukraine Self-Determination in Black Sea Region Fuels Tensions between Moscow and Kiev

Article excerpt

A TERRITORIAL dispute between Ukraine and its largely pro-Russian Crimea Peninsula has threatened to spin out of control, and Kiev authorities have hinted that the former Soviet republic's nuclear status could be affected if the conflict worsens.

The clash in autonomy-minded Crimea, one of many potential hot spots between Russia and Ukraine following the 1991 Soviet collapse, could also harm Ukraine's strained relations with its powerful neighbor. Rumors of troop movements have been rife in the Black Sea region, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin has said that both he and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kravchuk, pledged to refrain from the use of force in settling the issue.

The Russian ITAR-Tass news agency over the weekend quoted the Ukrainian Navy as saying that Russia had dispatched tank and antiaircraft battalions to Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the prized Crimean port of Sevastopol, but the report has not been confirmed. Ukraine has protested to Russia over the action.

"Ukraine will refrain from using force in solving the Crimean problem - unless, of course, it is provoked by the other side," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko said. He added that he received assurances from Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev that Russia would also avoid force.

Seeking to defuse the situation, Mr. Yeltsin stressed in a telephone conversation with Mr. Kravchuk that Crimea is a sovereign republic within Ukraine and has the right to carry out its own policy, ITAR-Tass reported. The two countries' prime ministers are scheduled to meet today in Moscow to discuss the issue.

The conflict flared up on Friday, when Crimea's pro-Russian parliament voted to restore a 1992 Constitution giving the region more independence from Ukraine. Kravchuk suspended the Constitution as a threat to his nation's security and gave parliament 10 days to rescind the action.

Following the 69 to 2 vote, deputies in the Crimean capital of Simferopol told Kiev the action was not a threat to Ukraine's integrity. But Kravchuk saw the vote as a step toward possible realignment with Russia.

"The Yugoslav drama should not be repeated in Crimea," Mr. Kozyrev warned, according to ITAR-Tass. "There the {war} started with demands of sovereignty and ultimatums to back up state integrity."

Part of Russia since 1783, Crimea is 70 percent ethnic Russian but was transferred to Ukraine as a token of Russian-Ukrainian friendship by former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. …

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