Kiev - Everyone expected for Yulia Tymoshenko to enter the scene, but now two other characters are throwing their weight around new Ukraine. The first is the Chinese ambassador in Kiev, Zhang Xiyun, and the second is the Governor of Crimea, Anatolii Mohyliov.
Both have been working for several weeks on a project that has the blessing of Putin and Li Keqiang, which is the separation of Crimea from a pro-European Ukraine. It’s no coincidence that hundreds of Ukrainian citizens are now ready to enrol in the “Popular Brigades” to defend the region against possible occupation by the so-called “pro-European rioters” who have taken control of Kiev.
The peninsula, which is surrounded by the waters of the Black Sea and connected to Southern Ukraine by just a small strip of land, is only a few kilometres off the Russian coast, and inhabited by almost two million people.
Anatolii Mohyliov governs Crimea, and he is a member of the Party of Regions, a group that despite having distanced itself from ex-President Yanukovych only a few hours ago, when he accused him of crimes against the Kiev protesters, is as pro-Russian as ever.
Eyewitness testimony via twitter mentions would-be guerrillas lining up to enrol in these paramilitary groups, and if necessary, to fight a civil war against their pro-European compatriots if their region is threatened.
Crimea has always been considered something of a jewel, even by Genoese and Venetian traders. Moscow considers it a strategic zone and Beijing, a long-time ally, also considers it such because of its Black Sea port, an essential commercial outlet.
If it’s true that since Yanukovych’s election as president in 2010, the link between Russia and Ukraine has grown stronger, it is just as clear that the link between Moscow and Simferopol has become almost unbreakable.
Ethnic Russians make up 17% of Ukraine’s population, but they are 63% of Crimea’s population. Almost half of its two million inhabitants consider Russian to be their native language.
This ethno-linguistic situation is reflected in the local assembly, where the Party of Regions controls 80 out of 100 seats. For the moment, Tymoshenko is flying high on the enthusiasm for her sudden return to the national stage, and may be underestimating events in Simferopol.
Yesterday the ultra-religious Oleksandr Turchinov was officially nominated as interim president of Ukraine. Turchinov has made several unpleasant attacks on homosexuals (whom he calls “perverts”).
And at the same time, work has started on the assembly of a national unity government (to be presented tomorrow) most likely to be led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the influential head of the opposition and a leader of the protests and negotiations with Viktor Yanukovych, who offered him the premiership in exchange for ending the street protests only a month ago.
Yatsenyuk is the leader of the “Fatherland” movement and has taken over Tymoshenko’s role during the years of her imprisonment. But in any event, the “Pasionaria” has not lost sight of her alliances with the West.
She has already had a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reiterated her esteem and support (even inviting her to come to Germany to treat back problems), and is also highly regarded by the United States and the International Monetary Fund.
The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, has made it known since the G20 meeting in Sydney that he was “ready to provide economic support for Ukraine’s return to stability and growth”.
All this happened after Moscow changed its tune and denied the 15 billion Euro loan it had promised Kiev before Yanukovych was ousted. Italy’s position in this foreign-relations puzzle is of some significance, and for the moment, since the Italian Foreign Office has not made a statement, the situation is in the hands of Fabrizio Romano, the ambassador in Kiev.
The Italian diplomat is sticking to the prudent and reasonable line taken by the other E.U. member states (Great Britain and France most of all): “The only thing we have so far is that a government is being formed. Legal recognition is another matter”.