- (Photo: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)
As Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since it was annexed from Ukraine amid military parades and celebrations, fears are growing that other Ukraine territories might also break away.
"I do believe that the danger of territories breaking away is very real," said Dustin Mullenix, who serves with Christian Missionary Fellowship International in Lviv, Ukraine, in an email to The Christian Post on Friday. "If they hold the referendum on Sunday as planned, and if the vote, whether legitimate or not, is for secession, then I think that it will be very difficult for Kiev to maintain … the breakaway territories."
Mullenix said he was not surprised that Putin showed up in Crimea. He called the visit "unfortunate," though, "as it adds somewhat of an external legitimacy to Russia's annexation of Crimea."
On Friday, Putin proclaimed that Russia's annexation of Crimea made his country even stronger, and watched a military parade in Sevastopol on the Black Sea as part of celebrations for Victory Day.
"There is a lot of work ahead but we will overcome all difficulties because we are together, which means we have become stronger," the Russian president said, according to Reuters.
As much as 97 percent of voters in Crimea's referendum in March supported the annexation from Ukraine, though many residents are said to have boycotted the vote, which was also criticized by the U.S. and the EU.
There are fears that new territories might follow suit. Pro-Russian activists have taken government buildings throughout the eastern regions of Ukraine and Ukraine president Olexander Turchynov admitted that the government is "helpless" to stop the uprising.
"I would like to say frankly that at the moment the security structures are unable to swiftly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions back under control," Turchynov said during a meeting with regional governors late last month.
As Mullenix noted, the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine has decided to go with another referendum on Sunday seeking autonomy, despite reported calls from Putin to delay such a move.
Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, has called his organization a "bullhorn for the people," The Association Press reported on Thursday, adding that the activists "voice what the people want and demonstrate through their actions."
The question on the ballot reportedly reads: "Do you support the act of proclamation of independent sovereignty for the Donetsk People's Republic?"
Earlier, Putin presided over the Victory Day parade in Moscow, marking the Soviet Union's victory over Germany in World War Two, and said, "The iron will of the Soviet people, their fearlessness and stamina saved Europe from slavery."
The Russian government has consistently argued that it is not in control over the rebels in eastern Ukraine, something which the U.S. has met with suspicion. In April, Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, a European security watchdog, said regarding pro-Russian attacks: "I think it's very clear that what is happening would not be happening without Russian involvement."
The European Union has said that it will be tightening sanctions against Russia, and according to Janusz Lewandowski, a member of the EU's governing commission, it will target 15 people and several Crimean branches of Ukrainian companies taken over by Russians.
A spokesman for St. Alexander Cathedral, the oldest Catholic Church in Kyiv, told CP on Friday that tensions in Ukraine remain on the edge.
"The situation in Ukraine is a bit on the edge, especially, in the eastern part. It is difficult to say what the final outcome would be," the spokesman said.
"We can only wish, hope and pray that the situation be resolved peacefully to avoid more unnecessary, avoidable waste of human lives and destruction of properties."