Rallies and other actions in support of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine have attracted thousands in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities across Russia.
Around 27,000 people, including members of the patriotic youth groups and veterans’ organizations, took part in the Moscow march, which started on Pushkin Square in central Moscow on Sunday, the police said.
The demonstrators carried Russian national flags and chanted: “Russia and Ukraine are brothers forever,” and “Crimea, Russia is with you.”
“We are worried about the developments in Ukraine where millions of our compatriots live,” the organizers of the rally, which went on under the slogan, “We don’t abandon our people,” told Itar-Tass news agency. “The Ukrainians are our fraternal nation, which is historically connected to us and has unified cultural and spiritual roots with Russia.”
Russia’s biggest bikers’ club, the Night Wolves, has staged a major motorbike rally in the capital in support of Russian speakers in Ukraine. Despite the fact that the motorcycle season hasn’t yet kicked off, over 100 bikes participated in the rally.
“With this event, we want to express our attitude to the events in Ukraine,” one of the bikers told Ridus website. “During the last five years, we have conducted various activities in the Crimea, which were bound by a sense of unity between Crimea and Russia.”
The motorcycle enthusiasts were backed by car owners, who organized an motorized rally of their own in Moscow. Over 50 cars decorated with Russian flags joined the rally, city police told RIA-Novosti news agency.
Around 15,000 people gathered in the center of St Petersburg, local police in the city said.
“The main idea of the demonstration is to express outrage about the treatment of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine,” Orlana Zapolskaya, from the United Russia party, told Itar-Tass news agency.
The rally was also aimed at showing full support for the decision of the Federation Council, which voted to use stabilizing Russian military forces on Ukrainian territory, Zapolskaya added.
On Saturday, Russia’s Federation Council unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send Russian military forces in Ukraine to ensure peace and order in the region “until the socio-political situation in the country is stabilized.”
However, the final say about sending in the troops lies with Putin, who hasn’t yet made such a decision.
The authorities in Crimea requested Moscow’s assistance after the new self-proclaimed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of languages other than Ukrainian in official circumstances in the country.
Crimea has longstanding close ethnic, cultural and military links with Russia, as part of Imperial Russia since the 18th century and then the Soviet Union in the 20th century.
Under Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, in 1954 Crimea was transferred from the Russian to the Ukrainian Soviet republic, but retained strong links with Russia after the end of the Soviet Union through Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which has a base there.
With more than half of Crimea’s population being Russian, the referendum to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region is scheduled for March 30.