Nearby, a rally of several thousand people was held close to the Kremlin in support of Russian intervention in Crimea.
At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and close ally China abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue. Supporters of the U.S.-sponsored resolution knew that Russia would use its veto. But they put the resolution to a vote Saturday morning to show the strength of opposition in the 15-member Security Council to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea. The final vote was 13 members in favor, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member casting a veto.
The question of whether Crimea, a strategically important Black Sea peninsula that is home to a key Russian naval base, should become part of Moscow’s orbit raises strong passions on both sides.
Supporters say the region rightfully belongs to Russia and that the government that replaced fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych is a coterie of fascist-minded nationalists who will abuse Crimea’s majority ethnic-Russian population. Opponents bristle at Russia’s heavy hand. Crimea effectively is already under Russian control after forces were sent in last month.
Tensions are also high elsewhere in Ukraine. On Friday night, two people were killed and several wounded in a shootout that erupted after a clash in the city of Kharkiv between pro-Russian demonstrators and their opponents.
On Saturday, thousands of pro-Russia demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk stormed the local offices of the national security service, smashing windows, taking down the building’s Ukrainian flag and raising a Russian one.
In downtown Simferopol, at least 1,000 people on Saturday jammed a square in front of a soundstage and two massive TV screens as a long succession of Russian musical acts lauding “friendship of nations” and Russia itself. Musical acts from distant regions of Russia sang folk songs and danced traditional dance. One ensemble dressed as fairy-tale characters sang “Don’t Fall Out Of Love with Russia!” No Ukrainian flags or colors were visible.