Russia Fosters Ukraine Discord

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Yanukovych Says He Is Still There; Unrest in Crimea.

Ukraine’s new pro-Western leadership faced a double challenge Thursday that raised fears of a separatist conflict that could draw in Russia. Armed men took over a regional legislature and a pro-Russian leader was installed, while the ousted president broke a days-long silence to declare himself still in charge.

As the events unfolded in the autonomous region of Crimea, which has emerged as the epicenter of resistance to the new leadership in Kiev, former President Viktor Yanukovych issued a public statement for the first time since he was deposed on Saturday.

Mr. Yanukovych said he remains the lawful president of Ukraine and asked Russia for protection, a request Moscow, speaking through unnamed officials to state news agencies, promptly granted.

The rapid-fire developments raised the prospect that Crimea, which until 1954 was part of Russia and still hosts Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, might seek greater autonomy or even secede from Ukraine.

The Crimean legislature called a referendum on the region’s status for May 25. Late Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to arrange “humanitarian aid” for Crimea, where ethnic Russians make up the bulk of the population.

A separatist Crimea could wind up like other Moscow-backed breakaway regions across the former Soviet Union, such as Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. All are contested territories that Russia’s neighbors accuse the Kremlin of using as levers to pressure them.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said any Russian involvement in developments in Crimea would conflict with its public statements about respecting Ukraine’s borders.

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