A Russian flag is currently flying over the Parliament of Crimea, a southern province of Ukraine located on a peninsula and home to increased tension between the new Ukrainian government and Russian allies. The seizure of government buildings follows clashes all day between pro-Russia and Ukrainian protesters.
According to Canada’s Globe and Mail, the clashes began between ethnically Russian Crimeans who oppose the new government and ethnically Ukrainian individuals in the region after the new opposition government passed a law undoing the Yanukovych regime’s permission for Crimeans to adopt Russian as an official language. Many of the clashes were caught on video, with Reuters releasing footage of rival demonstrations before the Crimean Parliament, before the Russian flag had been raised on the building.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin began ordering the Russian military to encircle Crimea and “be put on alert for war games in the areas bordering Ukraine.” This was seen by many in the international community as a potential threat to Ukrainian sovereignty, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned Russia to exercise “cool, wise judgment” and not act in a way “that could be misinterpreted” in the region.
While troops began to move and diplomats began to issue statements, The Guardian reports that pro-Russia groups have stormed the Crimean Parliament and taken it from the inside. A group of “pro-Russian gunmen” entered the building and put up a sign that says “Crimea is Russia.” The Guardian adds that they are behaving violently towards opposition and media: “A flash grenade was thrown in response to a question from a journalist, but it is believed no one has been injured.”
A pro-Russia activist who spoke to the Associated Press said that his group of peaceful demonstrators had begun putting up barricades when a group of armed gunmen began to surround the Parliament and ask questions. When the protesters told the gunmen that they were assembling on behalf of Russia, they were allegedly told, “don’t be afraid; we are with you.” The protester described the gunmen as “professionals” and “clearly a well-organized operation.” They are not allowing anyone to enter the building.
Aside from their military, Russia is beginning to deploy prominent Russian celebrities to Crimea to support the pro-Russian protesters. Most notable among the group is current legislator and former boxer Nikolai Valuev, who arrived in Crimea today. While never fighting either of the Klitschkos, Valuev’s inability to secure all four major boxing titles is believes by experts to be due to the supremacy of the Ukrainian brothers. Elder brother Vitaly Klitschko is currently vying for the presidency of Ukraine and has been a prominent legislator and member of the opposition.