News of Crimea referendum sparks talk of war among those with long view of history

McClatchy reports: In a Crimean Tatar cafe just off Kiev’s now-famous Maidan, or Independence Square, Igor Semyvolos looked at his phone Thursday and saw the news he’d been dreading.

The Crimean Parliament had just announced that its contested peninsula is now part of Russia. A referendum would be held March 16 to confirm the popularity of the decision, but the move, the Parliament said, was already done. Crimea might still be part of Ukraine in the eyes of the world, but to its regional Parliament, it was now Russian.

“This is war,” Semyvolos said.

The director of Ukraine’s Association of Middle Eastern Studies, an academic area that here includes Crimea, stared at a thick cup of Turkish coffee as he considered what would come next. Outside, Maidan was still basking in the afterglow after months of rebellion toppled the previous, pro-Russian regime, but the joy of that seeming victory is fading. Semyvolos sees it in the faces of Ukrainians outside — the stress and the growing realization that war is inevitable.

“It’s becoming clear that there will be war in Crimea, and that war will be for the independence of Ukraine,” he said. He paused to consider his statement for a second. He continued: “Ukraine will need help from the United States in this.”

Ukraine’s most recent trouble began last summer, when Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened trade sanctions against Ukraine if it signed a new trade agreement with the European Union. It quickly spiraled after Ukraine’s erstwhile president, Viktor Yanukovych, stepped away from the new ties to Europe in November, protesters crowded into Maidan and then, after months of protests, Yanukovych fled to Russia.

But the roots of the problem are far deeper, dating back centuries, and in that tangle of history is a series of ancient claims that for the people of Crimea, and Ukraine, are about to become very fresh again. [Continue reading…]

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