Meshkov Return Raises Separatist Worries

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian authorities raised concerns over the activity of a former Crimean president who has launched attempts to kick start a separatist movement in Crimea after spending 16 years in exile in Moscow.

Yuriy Meshkov

Yuriy Meshkov, a Russian citizen who as the president of Crimea had pushed for achieving its independence from Ukraine in early 1990s, suddenly returned to Crimea on July 2 to begin what appears to be the attempt to organize a separatist campaign.

His return to Crimea came on the same day when a well-organized semi-militant Russian ethnic group clashed with hundreds of Ukrainian riot police in Crimea, a region sensitive to ethnic violence.

The clash and the launch of Meshkov’s separatist campaign, coupled with a number of similar actions across Ukraine in May and June, suggest coordinated moves that appear to be provoking instability in Ukraine.

“The citizen of the Russian Federation has arrived and calls for grabbing pitchforks and attacking,” Vasyl Dzharty, Crimea’s prime minister, told Segodnia daily. “Attacking who? The people? The government?”

“The person [Meshkov] has been long forgotten as Crimea’s horrible history, now has been trying to attract new attention,” Dzharty said.

Dzharty said that Meshkov has been the focus of investigation by the SBU security service, and may be soon deported from Ukraine back to Russia.

This may signal a possible shift in SBU’s operation towards increasing a number of agents assigned to work against potential Russian threats.

This department, which was strong during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko in 2005-2009, had been seriously weakened immediately after election of Viktor Yanyukovych in February 2010.

The developments underscore a rapidly growing escalation of tensions over the past two months between small well-organized pro-Russian groups and different Ukrainian groups.

Ukrainian authorities have been repeatedly deploying massive police force to avert the clashes between the groups, most recently on Saturday in Konotop in the Sumy region.

A small Russian group, known as Loyal Cossacks, tried to face off nationalist Ukrainian groups celebrating the 352nd anniversary of a 1659 battle, in which Ukrainian forces had defeated a Moscow army.

The deployment of riot police helped to prevent clashes on Saturday.

A different group of Cossacks clashed with riot police in Feodosia, Crimea, on July 2 while trying to hoist a cross in Feodosia without proper authorization.

The police got involved after Crimean Tatars had warned that the hoisting of the cross would fuel ethnic tensions.

The escalations come less than two months after another clash, over involving a Russian group and Ukrainian nationalist groups over hoisting Red Flags, have taken place in Lviv on May 9.

Another pro-Russian group, posing as a Jewish organization, tried to incite clashes with nationalist groups in Lviv on June 22, but the clash had been prevented due to involvement of police.

Source: Ukrainian Journal