03/19/2014, 00.00
RUSSIA - UKRAINE
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As Crimea becomes Russian amid violence and hatred

by Nina Achmatova
Activists and journalists denounce a climate of fear and lawlessness in the region. A Ukrainian soldier and a Tatar activist are killed. Belarusian writer Svyatlana Aleksiyevich warns that Putin, amid fears of war, is stirring the baser instincts of the population.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - In a recent article, Foreign Policy magazine described Crimea as a "Republic of Fear" in the period leading up to last Sunday's referendum. After the vote and Moscow's favourable response, fear and widespread lawlessness seem to have definitely swept across the Crimean Peninsula.

In fact, Ukrainian authorities just announced that a Ukrainian soldier was killed in an attack against a Ukrainian base in Simferopol. Crimea's pro-Russian army instead pinned the blame for the death on other Ukrainian soldiers.

Whatever the case, many now fear that this death might spark war since many soldiers loyal to Ukraine are still deployed in Russian-occupied Crimea and are authorised to use weapons in self-defence.

Organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Euromaidan Crimea movement are also reporting more and more acts of violence, with journalists and activists going missing; people like Reshat Ametov, a 39-year-old Tatar man who was abducted by men in military camouflage just outside Simferopol. He was later found dead, showing signs of torture, and was buried yesterday.

Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Yulia Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concerns about what she describes as "complete lawlessness" in the region.

The authorities in Crimea, Gorbunova noted, have no control over local self-defence forces or the armed men in unmarked uniforms who appeared in recent weeks.

The thousands of unidentified soldiers who have occupied the peninsula and backed local forces are widely believed to be Russian military personnel.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin's anti-Western rhetoric before the Russian parliament and Crimean leaders yesterday are far from reassuring Crimean Ukrainians and even some local Russians. They fear a worsening of the economic crisis because of rising tensions between Moscow and the West.

Back in the Russian Federation, most people however seem to endorse the Kremlin's policy. Putin's approval rating has now reached 71.6 per cent, this according to a poll by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), the highest level in three years.

Most Russians also dismiss the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and Canada, which the Russian Orthodox Church has described them as an "honour" for the politicians affected by them.

"The time has come for our politicians to choose: the ultimate truth or foreign bank accounts, the freedom of our civilisation or freedom to move to dubious resorts, the willingness to listen to their own people or that of endlessly following orders and shouts from abroad," said Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Author of several books and essays, like A Prayer for Chernobyl and Zinc Boys, on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Svyatlana Aleksiyevich, a Belarusian journalist and writer, slammed the belligerency and hatred generated by the Ukraine crisis in Russia.

"I was present at two meetings in Moscow, one for the war and one against the war," the Minsk-based writer said. "The victory rally for Crimea attracted 20,000 people with placards, saying 'The Russian spirit is invincible,' 'Do not give up Ukraine to America,' 'Ukraine, freedom, Putin'." The place was full of "Prayers, priests, sacred symbols, speeches full of pathos: an atmosphere from another age."

In an essay published by German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, she warns that "Something terrible and bloody is being prepared. [. . .] My father is Belarusian, my mother is Ukrainian, and the same thing is true for many people. For three hundred years, we were one nation. The most terrible thing now is to imagine a war between Russia and Ukraine. There will be no winners in such a war . . . Putin has focused on the baser instincts and won. Even if Putin were to leave tomorrow, how could we ever leave ourselves?"

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