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Crimeans push back against Ukrainian protest movement

February 26, 2014 at 6:06 PM EDT
Protest in Crimea region of Ukraine
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JUDY WOODRUFF: More now on Ukraine.

Proposed new leaders were introduced to protesters in Kiev today. But that was overshadowed by mounting concerns over Russian military moves. In a late afternoon statement, the White House said: “We urge outside actors in the region to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to end provocative rhetoric and actions.”

All of this as tempers flared between pro and anti-Russian factions in Crimea.

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News is there.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The police struggled to hold them back. The crowd was surging forward, trying to force their way into the Crimean parliament, on the one side, Russians, many of whom would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine, on the other, Crimean Tatars with their pale turquoise flag, who support the new order in Kiev, and are largely hostile to Russia, which they see as their historical oppressor.

The protests may be over in Kiev, but the repercussions are being felt across Ukraine. Here, the Tatars are delighted about the new authorities. But the Russians are spoiling for a fight.

And some Tatars were not convinced that peaceful protest is the way to combat the Crimean Russians’ ally in Moscow.

MAN: When it comes down to Putin, you have to have fists. He doesn’t understand good words and diplomacy. You have to show some — some physics too. So, if they don’t listen to us, we don’t exclude some physical actions here, like in Kiev, too.

LINDSEY HILSUM: So you would turn to violence?

MAN: No, no, no, no. We are for peace, but we want them to hear us.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Some on the Russian side weren’t keen to talk to a British journalist, a representative of Europe, which many see as fascist.

WOMAN (through interpreter): We don’t say the British are fascists, but I live in Crimea, and we want to join Russia.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The Tatars were determined to stop a parliamentary debate on secession. Some seized a Russian flag. Scuffles broke out.

People started lobbing shoes, water bottles, and other objects. It began to get ugly. The Tatars are Muslim. The Russians paraded emblems of their orthodox Christian faith. Several people were injured, while others were crushed in the pushing and shoving. They were treated on the spot.

Across the border, the Russians announced emergency military exercises. They made no mention of Ukraine. No need to. The drills were in the nearest region. And the message to the new government in Kiev was clear: Don’t mess with Russia.

In Kiev, they gathered in the central square, scene of three months of protests, to talk about the new government, a new future. But here in Crimea, the trouble has only just begun.