Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ukraine Crisis: "Goblin," Moscow's Man in Crimea, Won Just 4% of Vote in 2010

Moscow's man in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, has long been alleged to have been an organized crime figure with the nickname "Goblin," according to this Toronto Star story.

Aksyonov was installed as Crimea's leader after heavily armed, Russian-speaking soldiers took over the region's parliament building last week.

His Russian Unity party won just 4 percent of the vote in the last regional election in 2010.

Aksyonov suddenly emerged as Crimea's Moscow-backed prime minister after mass protests swept Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych out of office.

After Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea's political leaders explicitly refused to call for independence for their region, which has autonomous status within Ukraine.

That changed, however, after gunmen took over the region's parliament.

Aksyonov Installed Behind Closed Doors

Legislators were summoned, and their cellphones were taken as they entered the building, the Star reports. Media was banished.

Then, behind closed doors, the Crimean government was dismissed in a move that Ukrainian authorities say was unconstitutional and Aksyonov was installed as the new Crimean prime minister.

This, despite years of allegations that he was active in a large and violent crime gang called Salem, according to the Star. Many Crimean gangsters went into politics in the 1990s in order to obtain legal immunity that came from being a legislator.

Most Crimeans Opposed Joining Russia: Survey

The new Aksyonov-led government initially announced a referendum in May seeking greater autonomy for Crimea.

On Monday, the referendum date was moved to March 30. But today, Crimean lawmakers announced they had voted to separate from Ukraine and join Russia.

A referendum is now planned March 16 to ratify the decision.

A survey in February found a majority of people in Crimea don't support joining Russia, with only 41 percent supporting the idea.

In Ukraine's 1991 referendum on independence from Russia, 54 percent of Crimeans voted in favour.

Monitoring of Vote Promises to Be Difficult

There was no mention of outside observers to ensure the vote is fair and not manipulated by the thousands of Russian troops who have invaded the region.

The difficulties for international monitors were highlighted yesterday when the United Nations' special envoy to Crimea, Robert Serry, was confronted by 10 to 15 armed gunmen in camouflage after he left Ukrainian naval headquarters in Simferopol, Crimea.

The gunmen insisted that he leave. When he refused, his car was surrounded, and the diplomat was threatened. He sought refuge in a cafe, while the gunmen blocked the door and refused to let anyone leave or enter.

A pro-Russian demonstration started outside, and Serry eventually agreed to quit Crimea.

Russia has coveted Crimea ever since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. The peninsula hosts Russia's Black Sea fleet.

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