Over 65,000 people gathered on Friday for a demonstration in central Moscow to support residents of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The mostly Russian-speaking region has become a major stumbling block in Moscow-Kiev relations.
The 'We are together!' rally was held in front of the Kremlin walls and attracted more than 65,000 people, according to police. Many waved Russian flags and carried placards which read, “Crimea is Russian land!” and “Fascism will not pass,” as well as “We don’t swap our people for money.”
The demonstrators – activists of political parties, youth movements, and public organizations – adopted a petition urging the Russian government to back Crimea’s parliamentary decision to reunite with Russia.
“We, the participants of the demonstration, support the historic choice of residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, their determination to themselves decide on their future, and their aspiration to restore justice and reunite with Russia,” the document reads, as quoted by ITAR-TASS.
The petition also calls on the Russian parliament to “immediately” hold a session and start the procedure of officially accepting Crimea into the Russian Federation.
“That’s what both the citizens of Russia and Crimea expect,” the document states. “[The] Future of Crimea and Sevastopol is in unity with Russia. We are together forever!”
A lawmaker from the Moscow City Duma, Evgeny Gerasimov, addressed the crowd from the stage, saying that Ukrainian radical nationalists are seeking to “trample” Crimea. He then added that the republic – which was given to Ukraine by Nikita Khruschev in 1954 – has the chance to correct the “mistake made by Soviet” government, stating that Russia should support the Crimeans.
Earlier this week, the Crimean parliament voted in favor of joining Russia. The decision will only come into force if it is approved by the peninsula residents at a referendum which will be held on March 16. Many Western powers – including the US – and Kiev’s self-imposed government have already declared the upcoming popular vote illegitimate.
Crimea, the ethnic Russian-majority region, has refused to recognize the new coup-imposed Ukrainian leadership.
“We think the current government in Kiev is illegitimate; so we won't work with them. If tomorrow a new legitimate government is elected in Ukraine, we will gladly cooperate,” Crimea’s prime minister, Sergey Aksyonov, told RT.
Following the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich's government, the epicenter of Ukraine’s turmoil has shifted to Crimea, where thousands have staged protests against the new government and asked Russia for help and protection.
According to Aksyonov, Crimeans have repeatedly asked lawmakers to hold a referendum on the status of the republic’s autonomy.
“In various regions of Crimea, the members of our parliament hold regular meetings with the voters, who have frequently asked to make the ultimate decision given the current situation in Ukraine: either to seek full autonomy – meaning an ability to adopt our own state laws – or to opt for secession, since the situation in Kiev has been spinning out of control,” Aksyonov said. The Prime Minister is almost certain that the Crimeans will vote for the second option.