Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

CRIMEAN SECESSION VOTE; How, Why and What's Next?; CRISIS IN UKRAINE

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

CRIMEAN SECESSION VOTE; How, Why and What's Next?; CRISIS IN UKRAINE

Article excerpt

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine * 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 world's other nations, which have 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 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.

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.

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. …

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