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Ukraine: Pro-Russian Crimean Parliament Opposes Regional Government

Prague, 30 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Crimea's pro-Russian parliament has overwhelmingly approved (54 to 1) a vote of censure against the regional government installed by Ukraine.

The vote yesterday in Simferopol was the second attempt to remove the government in the last six days. The first had been approved by the parliament on January 23 but was suspended through a decree by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. According to Ukraine's constitution, the head of state must approve the resignation of the local Crimean government.

The parliament's chairman, Vasily Kiselev, told Russian media that the renewed move was "a clear challenge" to the central authorities. It appears to signal a revival of the once politically prominent separatist movement in Ukraine's Crimean republic.

The parliament's deputy chairman, Vladimir Klychnikov, who proposed the move, confirmed its political motivation by saying that "the government is carrying out an anti-Crimean policy that aims to subordinate the executive power to Ukrainian authorities."

The vote also represents a new drive by die-hard pro-Russian groups, which had been effectively subdued a few years ago by the imposition of central controls. These pro-Russian groups have surged into the open following recent demonstrations of Moscow's growing nationalist fervor.

Some Russian politicians, particularly Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov, have recently shown renewed interest in Crimea, perhaps in an effort to display nationalist credentials in the event of power changes resulting from the extended illness of President Boris Yeltsin.

The Crimean peninsula has a mostly ethnic Russian population. The republic was part of Russia for more than two centuries until former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine four decades ago. The move meant little then, but became significant after Ukraine gained independence six years ago.

In 1992, Crimea's parliament adopted a constitution providing the right to secede from Ukraine. Two years later, the autonomous republic elected both its parliament and president on the promise of bringing about that secession.

In 1995 Ukraine stopped those plans. President Kuchma issued a decree subjecting the Crimean government to his direct control, and the Ukrainian parliament voted to annul the Crimean constitution and abolish the republic's presidency. Effective power passed to a regional prime minister appointed by Kyiv. The pro-Russian separatist movement was crushed.

Until recently, Crimea concerns focused on economic issues and growing crime rather than dreams of unity with Russia. Its current ethnic problem centers on the so-called "Moslem factor," commonly identified with the presence of a large community of Crimean Tatars.

Settled in Crimea hundreds of years ago, the Tatars were deported en masse in the 1940s by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. They started to return to the Crimea only a few years ago and now face severe unemployment and housing shortages. They have also emerged in the forefront of opposition to Ukrainian and Russian criminal gangs.

Amid the economic and social problems facing Crimea, the local parliament's vote of censure against the Ukrainian-directed government may be merely an echo of the dormant separatist movement.

The republic's Prime Minister Arkady Demidenko told a Russian news agency yesterday that he would urge President Kuchma to dissolve the Crimean parliament.