Early Thursday, the Supreme Council of Crimea voted to become part of the Russian Federation and to speed up a referendum on annexation. The vote is now scheduled to take place on March 16 instead of March 30, but the council's vice chairman said the ruling means that Crimea is part of Russia "from today," The Guardian's Shaun Walker reports. In response, members of the Russian State Duma said they are prepared to consider annexation as early as next week. Just two days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia was not considering any such action. No matter what Putin may say, Julia Ioffe writes, he's been wanting Crimea for a long, long time.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said the Crimean government is "working under the barrel of a gun" and that the decision is illegitimate. Just hours prior to the Supreme Council vote, a Kiev district court ordered the detention of Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov and the council chairman.
The governing body of the Crimean Tatars, who have the most to lose from Russian annexation, said it does not recognize the referendum and encouraged all Crimeans to boycott preparations leading up to the March 16 vote.
The Guardian reports that the Crimean government is also working on how Crimea could adopt the ruble and "nationalize" Ukrainian property in the peninsula.
E.U. leaders held an emergency session on the crisis in Brussels on Thursday, which is unlikely to result in European sanctions on Russia. "The Germans in particular are about engagement rather than isolating the Russians. The Americans are talking about isolation but the Germans certainly do not want that. There’s much more at stake economically for the Germans," The Guardian's Ian Traynor reported from the scene. "Also, there’s a big fear of Russian retaliation if they go down the sanctions route. Russia can also hurt Europe, no doubt about it."
Ukrainian Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told E.U. leaders at the emergency session that "having Russian boots and Russian tanks on the ground is unacceptable in the 21st century" and urged negotiations. On the ground in Crimea, BuzzFeed's Mike Giglio reports that neither Ukraine nor Russia wants a shooting war.
For what it's worth, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad expressed solidarity with Putin on Ukraine.
President Obama signed an executive order to authorize sanctions against "individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine." A visa ban has also been imposed.
Sieges and blockades continue at Ukrainian military bases in Crimea as one source reports that more Russian forces are entering the region, some to relieve occupying troops. The same source said that many Russian soldiers being sent to Ukraine have barely served six months.
Russia will make it easier for ethnic Russians from other countries to become citizens. "Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said that Russia would simplify the procedures for people who have lived in Russia or the former Soviet Union to secure Russian citizenship," The New York Times reports.
Julia Ioffe explains the complex ethnic and historical ties that define Ukraine's relationship with Russia. "When Putin and his surrogates speak about a larger Russian-speaking universe, they are talking about a Soviet universe."
Jane Harman details America's foreign policy guidelines for dealing with Putin, and Adam Kirsch explains the "negative feedback loop" that defines the American understanding of Russia for TNR. "The more dangerous Russia is, the more untimely it seems, so the less dangerous it appears," Kirsch writes.
100 people have died and over 1,000 were injured in Kiev since November 30, according to the Ukrainian Health Ministry. Over the past 24 hours, 22 people were hospitalized.
Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were attacked in a McDonalds in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday morning. Attackers threw metal objects, food, and an unidentified green liquid at them. Writing in The New Republic earlier this week, Alyokina described Russia's "quiet creeping civil divide" as "an artificial yet effectively constructed divide of citizens into those who have opinions but have no right to walk along the streets, and those who walk along the streets with empty heads and without a desire to have a say in government."
The Red Cross has begun evacuating residents of Crimea.
Late Wednesday, United Nations peace envoy Robert Serry was forced to leave Crimea after pro-Russia militia blocked his car and told Serry they had orders to take him to the airport. Protesters chanting "Putin, Putin!" surrounded the car, ITV's James Mates tweeted. After attempting to wait out the throng in a nearby coffeeshop, Serry conceded to their demands and boarded a plane to Istanbul.
Very unpleasant incident over. Robert Serry said v happy to leave #crimea if it helped de escalate the situation.— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
UN OSCE military observers were banned from entering Crimea yesterday. The delegation of 40 observers from 21 OSCE member nations was stopped by men in uniform at the border of the peninsula, and negotiations are underway.
A poll from the state-owned All Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies conducted from on March 1st and 2nd found that 71 percent of Russians believe it's important to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea, and 15 percent do not think Russia should get involved. Strangely, a poll from the same agency released on February 24 found that 73 percent of Russians do not want Putin to interfere in Crimea.
Here is a complete list of the 18 Ukrainian officials sanctioned by the European Union.
Kharkiv Mayor Henadiy Kernes—a former organized crime boss in the region—said he was a "prisoner" of former President Viktor Yanukovych's government and expressed support for Ukrainian oligarchs Ihor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta, who were both appointed to regional governorships. Kernes explained his abrupt switch from being one of Yanukovych's supporters to a leading opposition figure to the Kyiv Post.
Ukrainian Jews wrote an open letter to Putin. "Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which you expressed at your press-conference, also does not correspond to the actual facts. Perhaps you got Ukraine confused with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year," it reads. TNR's Marc Tracy explains what the crisis means for Ukraine's 17,000 Jews.
Twenty-four ethnically Russian writers from Kharkov, Ukraine's second-largest city, also issued a statement against Russian military action. "We Kharkov Russian writers, want our voices to be heard...national character can not be a pretext for military intervention. We, Russian writers Kharkov—Ukrainian citizens—we do not need military protection from another state."
Reports that 675,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia are unfounded, says the Ukrainian State Border Service. "The number of regular buses, cars and pedestrians crossing the border and traveling from Ukraine recently—has not increased, and not decreased, when compared with the information for one day in the same time last year," said a press secretary for the agency.
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