The Tale of Two Cities: Kyiv and Simferopol

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 223

Simferopol anti-EU rally, December 8 (Source: crimeavector.com.ua)

Since November 21, the mass protests in Ukraine’s capital organized by opposition parties and citizens supportive of the European Union have been continuing, with the number of protesters increasing each day. In fact, on December 8, over a million Ukrainians gathered in Independence Square (“Maidan Nezalezhnosti”) and demanded the impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych, the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, a criminal case against Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, and the punishment of all those responsible for beating non-violent protesters on November 29–30 (http://www.svoboda.org.ua/diyalnist/novyny/045246/). In the evening of this “Million March,” a few dozen youths in black masks, singing the Ukrainian national anthem and waving flags of Svoboda (“Freedom”—a Ukrainian right-wing nationalist party that has 37 seats in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament), toppled a 3.45-meter-tall statue of Vladimir Lenin from its pedestal on Boulevard Shevchenko, in Kyiv’s Bessarabia market area, a part of the Independence Square now known as “EuroMaidan” (http://euromaidan.rbc.ua/rus/svalili-pamyatnik-leninu-na-bulvare-shevchenka-08122013180100). But while this Lenin statue, which had been erected on the square on December 5, 1946, came tumbling down in Kyiv—perhaps representing a symbolic de-Sovietization of Ukraine (http://www.unian.net/news/610353-sikorskiy-rad-snosu-pamyatnika-lenina-v-kieve.html)—in Crimea, pro-Russian organizations were burning the EU flag in Simferopol’s Lenin Square, under the frozen gaze of another statue of the Soviet leader.

This anti-EU rally in Simferopol was organized by the leaders of the Congress of Russian Communities in Crimea, the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Crimea, and the Russian Community of Crimea. During the rally, the speakers condemned the actions of the “extremist” opposition and “radical Euro-integration militants” in Kyiv, whom they accused of being under the influence of “fairy tales from Europe for lazy fools” and of preparing a coup to overthrow the legitimate authority of the Yanukovych government (http://crimeavector.com.ua/politika/2756-prorossiyskie-organizacii-prizvali-prezidenta-navesti-poryadok-v-kieve-a-zatem-sozhgli-flag-evrosoyuza.html). Labeling the opposition leaders Arseniy Yatseniuk (Fatherland/Batkivschyna party), Vitaly Klichko (UDAR party) and Oleh Tyahnybok (Svoboda/Freedom party) as “Nazis,” the organizers of this event subsequently sent their joint appeal to Yanukovych as well as the major branches of the government, asking the authorities to restore order in Kyiv and punish the “lawbreakers” (http://an.crimea.ua/page/news/53096/). And yet, this was not the only anti-EU event in Simferopol that opposed the EuroMaidan cheers from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

On December 2, Sergiy Smoljaninov, a Sevastopol City Council deputy from the Party of Regions, organized a signature collection campaign for a petition to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to provide military assistance to Ukraine by bringing troops from Russia to protect the Russian population of Crimea and other regions of Ukraine. Smoljaninov argued that it was the only way to combat Western intelligence agencies, the United States, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which, he claimed, were jointly financing the Kyiv protests in an attempt to overthrow the legitimate authorities in the country (http://qha.com.ua/deputat-ot-pr-poprosit-putina-vvesti-voiska-v-ukrainu-131723.html). It bears pointing out that during the August 2008 Russian military intervention in the Georgian region of South Ossetia, which Moscow carried out under the pretext of “defending” Russian citizens there, Mykola Stretovych, then a deputy in Viktor Yuschchenko’s government, stated that Russia had issued “Russian” passports in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, “home to 400,000 residents, many of whom have historic ties with Russia (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/2575421/Russia-distributing-passports-in-the-Crimea.html). Currently, an estimated 100,000 of Crimea’s 2 million inhabitants hold Russian passports (Action Ukraine Report #900, Article 15, August 25, 2008).

On December 3, 2013, the Crimean parliament in Simferopol held an urgent session and called on President Yanukovych to fulfill his constitutional duty and to impose a “state of emergency” for the establishment of stability and order in Crimea as well as throughout Ukraine (http://www.nr2.ru/crimea/473637.html). During this session, where the first deputy chairman of the Crimean parliament, Sergiy Donych, defined the Ukrainians rallying in EuroMaidan as “trash,” the appeal for “suppression of turmoil” in Kyiv was supported by 76 of the 78 deputies (the Crimean legislature has a total of 99 deputies), who were present (http://www.amic.ru/news/244354). Subsequently, Vladimir Klychnikov, a deputy of the Crimean parliament asked the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Crimea to allow law enforcement agencies to closely monitor and to apprehend the Ukrainian nationalists and the instigators of protests, who would be easy to track, because they are, in his words “the Ukrainian speakers who do not know a single word of Russian” (http://ipress.ua/news/krymski_regionaly_proponuyut_vidstezhuvaty_ukrainomovnyh_gromadyan_34674.html).

The following day, on December 4, perhaps following Klychnikov’s request, the representatives of the pro-Russian “Sobol” Cossack Community of Crimea issued a press release to the media in which they announced that they were going to patrol a few areas in Simferopol, establish checkpoints, and aid the law enforcement agencies in identifying and catching the “fascist elements” at train and bus stations and other areas (). Although, later, Sobol refuted their press release, it created grave concerns among the Ukrainian-speaking Crimean citizens, including Crimean Tatars (http://15minut.org/article/krymskie-kazaki-vse-zhe-ne-budut-lovit-fashistov).

A recent public opinion poll published on December 10, conducted by the Research & Branding group during December 4–9 in 24 oblasts of Ukraine as well as the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol, indicated that 46 percent of Ukrainians supported their country’s integration with the EU, while 36 percent preferred membership in the Customs Union (with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan). The remaining 19 percent could not make a definite choice. EU supporters were mostly from western and central Ukraine—81 percent and 56 percent, respectively. Similarly, EuroMaidan was mostly supported by the citizens of western Ukraine (84 percent) and central Ukraine (66 percent) (http://rb.com.ua/rus/projects/omnibus/8836/). In both cases, the lowest levels of support were recorded in Ukraine’s South and the East. These regions include Yanukovych’s birth place of Donbas/Donetsk as well as Makeevka, where many of his closest associates in top governmental positions hail from—such as Crimea’s Council of Ministers Chairman Anatoly Mogilev.

Scholars and policymakers are generally well aware of the West and East/South divide that has been a part of Ukrainian politics especially since the Orange Revolution. But the events that took place in Simferopol between December 2 and December 8 draw a more holistic picture of the complexity of the political situation in Crimea. Moreover, these events raise an important question: If the divisions between Kyiv and Simferopol are so significant that a Lenin statue is being torn down in one as EU flags are burnt in the other, what will happen to Crimea if Ukraine finally decides to join the European Union?