NEWS ANALYSIS : Crimea Quiet as Standoff Between Lawmakers, Ukrainian Troops Ends : Black Sea: Forces were sent to capital when Kiev announced abolition of region’s presidency and constitution. Heightened tensions remain likely.


A standoff between Ukrainian riot troops and pro-Russian politicians running the separatist republic of Crimea ended without bloodshed Saturday, a day after Ukraine abolished the region’s presidency and constitution.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian Parliament’s action to block Crimean independence has served as a direct challenge to Russia, and it is expected to heighten tensions between the two nuclear-armed successor states of the former Soviet Union.

Officials in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, appear to have chosen the moment for their legislative crackdown carefully, because the action caught Moscow with its hands thoroughly tied.


Russia is already bogged down in a war against secessionist Chechnya, and President Boris N. Yeltsin has been trying to strike a more peaceable pose as he awaits President Clinton’s decision on whether to take part in May 9 celebrations marking 50 years since the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

With those distractions, there was little Moscow could do to encourage Crimea’s largely Russian population to carry on the fight for independence or repatriation to Russia.

The “Crimean question” has been the most serious obstacle to the conclusion of a friendship treaty between Ukraine and Russia, and Kiev’s latest action is expected to further frustrate the quest for an accord.

While Moscow was officially silent on Ukraine’s effort to strengthen its grip on Crimea, Yeltsin’s senior policy advisers were burning the midnight oil trying to decide on a reaction.

Viktor I. Borisyuk, deputy chief of the Presidential Analytical Center that advises Yeltsin on policy matters, said the status of Crimea is officially “an internal affair” of Ukraine. But he conceded that the issue is a sore point for Moscow because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the long-disputed Black Sea Fleet.

The 800 vessels of the Soviet navy deployed in the Black Sea region are temporarily under joint command by Russia and Ukraine, but the naval bases in the Crimean peninsula became foreign territory for the Russian ships with the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.


“Until now there has been only one unresolved problem between Russia and Ukraine, that of the fleet,” said Borisyuk, who was poring over reports of the Crimean developments at his office late Saturday night. “Now a new big problem is emerging. . . . This decision seriously complicates relations between Moscow and Kiev, adding to the agenda an item of mutual discontent.”

Russian nationalists have been agitating for the restoration of Kremlin rule over Crimea, and the Russian leadership is known to covet the lush resorts and strategic ports of the peninsula it ruled for two centuries before Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954.

That move on the ethnic chessboard made little difference during the Soviet era, when Ukraine and Russia were part of the same country. But since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Crimea’s status has been a point of contention.

Kiev’s swift moves to rein in Crimean separatism caught the peninsula’s leadership as well as Moscow by surprise, allowing Ukrainian Interior Ministry forces to neutralize opposition quickly.

Crimean President Yuri A. Meshkov denounced the action as “hysteria” at an emergency session of the Crimean Parliament, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported. And while he warned of “unpredictable consequences” for relations between Ukraine and Russia, he urged the population of 2.7 million to remain calm and pressed Crimean politicians to rely on legal recourse rather than force.

Indeed, the Ukrainian parliamentary action stirred little popular protest. Fewer than 300 pro-independence protesters gathered around the powerless Parliament, according to a Reuters news agency report from the Crimean capital, Simferopol.


As 200 troops of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry stood outside to discourage any disorder, the Crimean deputies issued toothless edicts demanding that Kiev rescind its actions and appealing for a treaty recognizing Crimean independence.

The Ukrainian troops, who had been flown to Simferopol from Kiev, had already compelled Meshkov’s security forces to hand over their weapons after an overnight standoff at the Parliament building.

The special forces also impounded Meshkov’s presidential motorcade and cut off telephone connections and banned television broadcasts from the Parliament, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

In what amounted to an admission of political impotence, the deputy head of the Crimean Parliament, Vladimir Klychnikov, warned against “rash decisions” that could provoke even more restrictions on Crimean autonomy.