A week after Russia's Ukraine invasion, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev hailed the Crimea region's vote to join Russia as a "happy event."
According to The Associated Press, Gorbachev said in remarks carried Tuesday
by online newspaper Slon.ru that the vote offered the Crimean residents the freedom of choice and justly reflected their will.
He said that Sunday's referendum showed that "people really wanted to return to Russia." Gorbachev added that the Crimean referendum has set an example for people in Russian-speaking in eastern Ukraine, who also should decide their fate.
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Gorbachev, who resigned as the Soviet president on Christmas Day 1991, has voiced regret that he was unable to stem the Soviet Union's collapse. He has criticized President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian policy, but said Tuesday that he supports his course in the Ukrainian crisis.
His comments come amid contradicting reports from the AP
that many Crimean residents are now unsure of whether or not to leave the region.
"We Crimean Tatars have never gotten anything good from the Kremlin," said Vait Sitdzhemiliev, a 49-year-old entrepreneur who brought his wife and three daughters to Crimea to honor a deathbed wish from his father six years ago.
Sitdzhemiliev's choice mirrors that of the majority of members of minority populations in ethnic Russian-dominated Crimea — at least so far. Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea says that there has been no exodus by those fearful of Moscow's takeover. But the future fills the archbishop with dread — and the present has shaken his faith in God: "The worst is that when people ask me to," he said, "I can't guarantee their safety."
His network of clergy has reported the departure of about 200 people, among them three priests, in recent weeks, mostly from the farming country of northeastern Crimea. About 40 percent of Crimea's population of 2 million is not Russian — mostly ethnic Ukrainians, Tatars, and Belarusians.
On Monday, Ukrainian First Vice Premier Vitaly Yarema said that the country was preparing for a possible "humanitarian catastrophe" caused by a flood of refugees from Crimea. To cope, some vacation resorts are being converted to emergency housing. Ukraine has also asked for humanitarian assistance from other countries, including the United States, Yarema said.
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