Russian media is reporting that 93% of voters on the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea have voted to secede to Russia.
The big question, now that Russia has effectively annexed Crimea (even though the international community does not recognise the move), is what happens next.
Here’s what Crimea’s pro-Russian deputy prime minister told Richard Engel of NBC News:
Crimean Deputy PM Rustam Temirgaliev on referendum: “It’s the first step. I really think so. I think second step will be with east Ukraine.”
— James Novogrod (@JamieNBCNews) March 16, 2014
Currently, the major concern of the ongoing Ukraine crisis is that pro-Russian special forces and other provocateurs will foment unrest in Ukraine’s east and south, which have sizable ethnic Russian populations, and Russia will subsequently enter those areas under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians.
The Kremlin used the same argument for its low-key invasion of Crimea.
In a phone call with German Chancellor Angel Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin “expressed concern over tensions in eastern and south-eastern parts of Ukraine” while pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk
smashed their way into public buildings and burned Ukrainian-language books.
Putin reiterated this claim to U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that unrest is being instigated by radical groups in connection with the new government in Kiev.
In this context, Ukrainians fear a full-on Russian invasion. A more likely reality in the short-to-medium term may be a slow subversion of order by pro-Russian groups in the eastern part of the country.
The optimistic view is that the Russians will back off after capturing Crimea and accept Kiev’s new government. But all signs currently point the opposite direction.
“It is Russia’s military movements and escalatory steps that are raising the greatest concern,” a senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Sunday.
In any case, the Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea guarding their bases are getting very uneasy as the Russians continue to surround them after the referendum.
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