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Conflict

'Crimea's status will be unclear for a long time'

The Crimea referendum could escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine. For Ukrainian journalist, Yuri Durkot, the pensinsula's status will be unclear for a long time and the situation will remain highly explosive.

DW: What will the Ukrainian transitional government do after the referendum?

Yuri Durkot: The Ukrainian transitional government has rejected the referendum and will not, of course, accept the result. However, this will not change the situation in Crimea because the government in Kyiv has no influence on events there at the moment.

Does the Ukrainian government still have any room to maneuver?

Not much. The Ukrainian government cannot achieve anything against the separatists in Crimea, who are supported by the Russian army. Thank God it has not yet come to bloodshed.

How great is the risk of a military confrontation?

You can't rule anything out in this situation. The Russian army has deployed its units at the borders with Ukraine and is carrying out maneuvers. The Ukrainian army has also mobilized and is on high alert. Such a situation is very dangerous. A small step is enough to provoke an escalation of violence.

Is Crimea lost to Ukraine?

The government in Kyiv will never accept this. But there is currently no chance that Crimea will return to Ukraine, possibly with an extended autonomy. The status of Crimea will be unclear for a long time. Neither the EU, nor other countries, will recognize its annexation by Russia. The inhabitants of Crimea had de facto no choice in the referendum.

The Russian government was also able to carry out the referendum because many inhabitants of the Crimea would rather be Russian than Ukrainian citizens. What do these people expect from being annexed by Russia?

What these people hope for is an illusion. They think they will receive higher pensions and wages in future, that Crimea will flourish and will become a tourist mecca. It is doubtful whether Russia will actually give Crimea generous financial support. And you can forget about the holiday season this year. What tourist likes to lie on the beach when nearby masked men are running around with machine guns? In Crimea, Russian propaganda has also actively fomented hatred for alleged enemies, which also played a part in events.

Do you expect that ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars will now leave the Crimea en masse and move to other parts of Ukraine?

In western Ukraine, there are now about 500 refugees from Crimea - Ukrainians and Tatars. But the Tartars have said they do not want to leave Crimea. They do not want to belong to Russia and have rejected the referendum.

Some Eastern Ukrainians also want to become a part of Russia. Are other areas of the country threatened by separatism?

The demonstrations in eastern and southern Ukraine have been organized with Russian support. In general, 500 to 1,000 people take part, while the counter-demonstrations are usually larger. But the pro-Russian demonstrators are meant to provoke and some are violent. They provide Russia with an excuse to intervene. I believe that Crimea is not Putin's only goal.

The EU intends to adopt further sanctions against Russia on Monday (17.03.2014). What might these sanctions do?

Whether the sanctions can be enforced depends on how far Europe will go. Are European countries ready to accept negative consequences for their economies? Of course, sanctions will hit the Russian economy much harder, but they will also have drawbacks for Europe. Account freezes and entry bans are unpleasant for the oligarchs in Russia. Basically, this could be the beginning of the end of Putin, but that would be a longer-term development.

How do you assess the position of the German government in this regard?

From the Ukrainian point of view, it is a problem that some German Russophiles equate the interests of the Kremlin with the interests of Russia. If Putin has no interest in Ukraine becoming a democratic state, that doesn't apply to the whole country. These people overlook the fact that neo-imperialist and xenophobic tendencies have increased in the Russian leadership and that it feels confirmed by such an uncritical attitude.

Yuri Durkot is a Ukrainian journalist and translator from Lviv who follows the developments in Ukraine up close and reports for German-language media. On Sunday (16.03.2014), he was a guest in DW's Berlin studio.

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