Newly appointed head of the Crimean Security Service, Petr Zima, said March 3 that he plans to take measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organization with a following among the Crimean Tatars. "Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognized as a terrorist organization," he announced in a televsied statement. "Today there are elements of this organization in Crimea. Corresponding functions are laid on the Crimean Security Service and we will struggle against them. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov added that officials will take measures, including using force, "against those who don't want to cooperate with official power." (InterFax, March 3) Zima's appointment comes just as Aksenov's government has welcomed Russian troops to Crimea, in defiance of authorities in Kiev.
Moscow police on March 2 arrested hundreds protesting against military intervention in Ukraine, a rights group said, after President Vladimir Putin won approval from senators to send troops into the neighboring country. Ovdinfo, a rights group that tracks arrests at demonstrations, said 352 were detained at two anti-war protests in central Moscow. Police gave a much lower figure of 50 people detained for "attempts to violate public order," according to Interfax news agency. Anti-war protesters gathered near the defence ministry in central Moscow, and at Manezhnaya square near the Kremlin. Demonstrators held up peace signs and posters saying "No to war," while some also held Ukrainian flags and ribbons in the national colors of yellow and light blue.
A group of some 50 gunmen seized control of parliament and government buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them Feb. 27—just as the US warned Russia that military exercises planned near the border of Ukraine could "lead to miscalculation." With the top floor of the building occupied by the gunmen, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's future—whether to remain in Ukraine or join Russia. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovich said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament in Kiev meanwhile voted to send Yanukovich to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week. (AFP, The Guardian, BBC News, Globe & Mail, Feb. 27; The Guardian, Feb. 25)
Ukraine's acting interior minister Arsen Avakhov on Feb. 24 said on his official Facebook page that an arrest warrant has been issued for the country's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovich, for the mass killings of civilian anti-government protestors. In his statement, Avakhov said that an official case had been opened for the mass murder of peaceful citizens and that Yanukovich and other officials had been declared wanted, going on to say that Yanukovich was last seen in the Crimean peninsula before dismissing much of his security detail and going to an unknown location. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Ukraine's new leaders and accused them of coming to power as a result of armed mutiny. A vast majority of Ukraine's elected parliament voted for the new government, including members of Yanukovich's party, and acting President Oleksandr Turchinov has said that a new coalition government may be formed later this week.
At least 25 are reported dead and more than 240 injured in clashes that erupted when Ukrainian protesters mounted a march on parliament Feb. 18, apparently ending a "truce" that had been worked out to allow negotiations. The march took place before a scheduled debate on reinstatement of Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would rein in President Viktor Yanukovich's powers. The situation on the streets escalated as the bill was blocked by parliamentary staff who refused to register it on procedural grounds. The 2004 constitution was repealed in 2010, shortly after Yanukovich came to power, replaced by a new one granting him sweeping powers, including to appoint regional governors—a critical issue in Ukraine, with its divide between the more Russian-identified east and more European-identified west. (Jurist, WP, UN News Centre, Feb. 19; BBC News, EuroNews, Feb. 18)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told Turkey's Anadolu Agency Feb. 5 that photographs showing torture in Syria mean that the country's president, Bashar Assad, must be tried before the International Criminal Court. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and rights advocate, noted that Syria (like the US, Israel and Sudan) has not ratified the Roma Statute that created the ICC, but she said that he could be indicted by an initiative of the UN Security Council, as in the case of Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. However, she also noted that Russia's veto at the Security Council is an obstacle to this. She also had harsh words for her own government: "I am ashamed of my country's intervention in Syria where civilians are killed, and as an Iranian I apologize to the Syrian people. The Iranian state intervenes in Syria despite the will of Iranian people." (Anadolu Agency, Feb. 6)
With the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russian special forces troops killed five suspected militants and took another into custody Feb. 8 in an assault on a house in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan. The suspects were named as members of the "Buynaksk" militant group, and their leader, who was among the dead, as Alexei Pashentsev, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam. The Buynaksk network was named as tied to December's Volgograd attacks, although there was no claim that the cell targeted in the raid was directly involved. Three days earlier, a suspected mastermind of the Volgograd attacks was reported killed in a shoot-out with security forces following a raid on a house in the Dagestan town of Izberbash. However, Russian state media named the network targeted in that raid as "Kadarskaya." (CNN, Feb. 8; Vestnik Kavkaza, Feb. 5) Jan. 18 saw another raid in Makhachkala, in which seven presumed militants were killed, and links to the Volgograd attacks alleged. That time, Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee named the suspects as members of the Buinaksk group. (RIA-Novosti, Jan. 30; CNN, Jan. 18)
A boycott of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics has been called by leaders of the Circassians, who are demanding that the 19th-century Czarist military campaign against their people in the region be officially recognized as a genocide. A delegation of Circassians from the diaspora—including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany and the US—has travelled to the North Caucasus to visit the historic sites of their ancestors' homeland before the Games and raise awareness of their campaign.