Ukraine crisis: Moscow rally opposes Crimea intervention

BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow: "There has been a sense of anger and shame at the Kremlin"

Tens of thousands have joined a rally in the Russian capital Moscow to oppose its intervention in Ukraine, a day before Crimeans vote on whether to secede and join Russia.

Holding Russian and Ukrainian flags, they shouted: "The occupation of Crimea is Russia's disgrace." A smaller pro-Moscow rally was being held elsewhere.

Moscow supports the vote, which Ukraine and the West have dismissed as illegal.

Kiev says Russian "provocateurs" are behind clashes in eastern Ukraine.

At the scene

This was one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Moscow for two years, with tens of thousands of protestors marching from Pushkin Square to a broad avenue nearby for a rally. Unusually the government granted permission for the demonstration to take place and for up to 50,000 people to take part.

Many said they were ashamed at Russia's intervention in Ukraine with one man telling the BBC he had reached the point where he felt he could no longer live in his own country.

Just a few kilometres away near the Kremlin, there was a rally in support of President Putin's policy in Ukraine. Here, speakers said the Russian government had reacted mildly to the actions of what they called bandits in Ukraine who had usurped power. The speakers also insisted they would not allow a protest movement like that in Ukraine which overthrew the government there, to take place in Russia.

Three people have died in pro- and anti-Moscow rallies in the cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv with sides blaming each other.

Russia's military intervention in the Crimean peninsula - part of Russia until 1954 and host to its Black Sea fleet - followed the fall of Ukraine's pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February.

Mr Yanukovych's decision in November not to sign a deal on closer ties with the European Union - opting instead for closer ties with Russia - had sparked months of protests.

Both the US and EU have threatened sanctions against Moscow.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council failed to adopt a US-drafted resolution that defines Crimea's referendum as illegal.

Thirteen members backed the resolution and China abstained, but Russia vetoed its passage.

After two people were killed in Kharkiv on Friday, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on his Facebook page: "Hired provocateurs from a neighbouring state are already playing on this situation and preparing provocations professionally.

"Former Ukrainian leaders, charged with crimes, are funding the planned disturbances in the country's south-east in co-ordination with the Russian extremist forces. Don't let them manipulate you."

Demonstrators march in support of President Putin's policies on Crimea. At the pro-Putin rally, participants supported the Crimean secession plan
A Ukrainian election official holds a ballot box during preparations for Sunday's referendum at a polling station in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 15 Crimean officials are preparing for Sunday's vote
An injured man carries a club as pro-Russian activists clash with pro-Ukrainian supporters in Kharkiv. Photo: 1 March 2014 Tensions are rising and often spill over into violence, like here in Kharkiv

Interim President Oleksander Turchinov echoed the charge, saying "Kremlin agents" were organising and funding the protests in eastern Ukraine.

Crisis timeline

  • 21 Nov 2013: President Viktor Yanukovych abandons deal on closer ties with EU in favour of closer co-operation with Russia
  • Dec: Pro-EU protesters occupy Kiev city hall and Independence Square
  • 20 Feb 2014: At least 88 people killed in 48 hours of bloodshed in Kiev
  • 21 Feb: President Yanukovych signs compromise deal with opposition leaders
  • 22 Feb: President Yanukovych flees Kiev. Parliament votes to remove him and sets elections for 25 May
  • 27-28 Feb: Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in Crimean capital Simferopol
  • 1 Mar: Russian parliament approves President Vladimir Putin's request to use Russian forces in Ukraine
  • 6 Mar: Crimea's parliament asks to join Russia and sets referendum for 16 March

Moscow denies this, vowing to protect its "compatriots" from far-right radicals.

Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it was "receiving many requests to protect peaceful citizens" in Ukraine.

The ministry said it would consider the requests.

In other developments:

  • Ukraine says it has repelled an attempt by Russian troops to move from Crimea into a neighbouring region of Ukraine
  • US Vice-President Joe Biden will travel to Poland and Lithuania early next week to discuss ways to support Ukraine's sovereignty, as well as Nato members' reciprocal defence commitments
  • The Pentagon says it will keep its aircraft carrier battle group in the Mediterranean Sea for several days longer than planned because of the Ukraine crisis
  • In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, hundreds of pro-Moscow protesters smashed the windows of the local offices of the security service and demanded the release of their detained leader Pavel Gubarev
Sense of shame

Tens of thousands - possibly as many as 50,000 - attended the rally in Moscow to oppose the government's intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

"Hands off Ukraine," some of the protesters shouted.

"People who want peace between Ukraine and Russia have gathered here. That's why I'm here," one of the participants said.

John Kerry: "There will be consequences if Russia does not find a way to change course"

There is a sense of shame among protesters over the course that Moscow is following, says the BBC's Richard Galpin, at the rally.

One man told the BBC he felt Russia was turning back to the days of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "We will respect the will of [the] people of Crimea"

At the pro-Kremlin rally, about 15,000 supporters of President Vladimir Putin came out to support the Crimean referendum.

Many of the protesters wore identical red outfits and carrying Russian and Soviet flags

"We are for friendship of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. We want to say a firm 'No' to the fascist junta that came to power in Ukraine and therefore we naturally want to support our comrades in Ukraine," one man said.

On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held six hours of talks in London, but failed to reach agreement on how to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

Mr Lavrov stressed that Moscow would "respect the will of the people of Crimea".

Mr Kerry said the US acknowledged Russia's "legitimate interests" in Ukraine and had told Mr Lavrov that there would be consequences if Russia "does not find a way to change course".

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