Dueling rallies over Crimea in Moscow
Protests • One group is against war in peninsula, but the other backs Crimea in joining Russia.
Published: March 16, 2014 02:05PM
Updated: March 15, 2014 10:52PM
Demonstrators hold Russian and Ukrainian flags during a massive rally to oppose president Vladimir Putin's policies in Ukraine, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014. Large rival marches have taken place in Moscow over Kremlin-backed plans for Ukraine’s province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia. More than 10,000 people turned out Saturday for a rally in the center of the city held to oppose what many demonstrators described as Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. In a nearby location, a similar sized crowd voiced its support for Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority, who Moscow insists is at threat from an aggressively nationalist leadership now running Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Moscow • Thousands of Russians turned out for dueling rallies on Ukraine on Saturday, one supporting Crimea’s efforts to join Russia and another protesting the possibility of war over the Black Sea peninsula.

About 15,000 people turned out for the rally in support of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, Moscow police said in a website statement. The event, organized by a group called Essence of the Times, featured speakers calling for USSR 2.0. Attendees stood in military formation in red jackets waiving Soviet, Russia and even Syrian flags.

As many as 50,000 people were at the anti-war protest, according to Alexander Ryklin, one of organizers. Police estimated attendance at 3,000 in a statement at 2 p.m. local time.

The rallies reveal Moscow’s division over the possible annexation of Crimea after Sunday’s referendum on joining Russia. While polls have shown Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating rose in response to his handling of the crisis, his opponents say the government is using the event to clamp down on media.

“I really don’t want to wake up tomorrow in a country that’s at war,” Andrey Makarevich, the frontman for Russian rock band Mashina Vremeni, said in an interview with independent channel TV Rain. “Being in a war with Ukraine — I cannot even imagine.”

Police kept the two events separate after marchers planned routes that would cross paths in downtown Moscow. State-run television Rossiya 24 showed speeches from the pro-annexation rally live. No footage was shown from the other protest.

“We’re against the Ukrainian fascists who are sneaking into Russia, which means they’re posing a threat to us, too,” Yury, a political analyst who didn’t want to give his surname, told Bloomberg at the event.

Attendees at the opposition event chanted slogans including “Putin’s a thief” and “Glory to Russia, glory to Ukraine.” Organizers said the protest, dubbed March for Peace, would oppose “the armed intervention of Russian authorities in Ukraine’s affairs,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

“I’m against war and want to show that not everyone supports this hysteria,” said Nodar Lakhuti, a 44-year-old history teacher who lives in Moscow. “I’m standing against the trend so that my kids can live in a peaceful country.”