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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kravchuk Takes Soft Line on Crimea

KIEV -- President Leonid Kravchuk took a soft line on Wednesday in tackling separatism in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, but members of the former Soviet republic's parliament demanded firm action to bring the region to heel. Kravchuk, addressing parliament, accused authorities in Crimea of plotting to secede from Ukraine, but offered no tough measures to force them to observe the country's laws. The Crimean parliament "is continuing to ignore the decisions of the Ukrainian parliament and widely accepted norms of international law," Kravchuk said. "Political forces and parties have come to power whose policies are secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its return to Russia." He proposed changing laws to ensure security forces were responsible only to central authority and called for creation of a constitutional court to regulate disputes. He also urged negotiators to conclude soon a division with Russia of the Black Sea Fleet, based in Crimea. Parliament was considering the next move in a battle with Crimea's pro-Russian authorities after the region's parliament refused to go back on its restoration of a constitution Kiev views as the first step towards secession. Crimean authorities ignored an ultimatum to comply with the order within 10 days, ending Monday. Deputies in the Kiev parliament split along their usual regional and ideological divide. Nationalists from western Ukraine demanded decisive measures and the Communist and pro-Russian east supported Kravchuk. Some nationalists suggested threatening Crimea with a state of emergency and dissolution of the regional parliament. "Mr. President, you are not fulfilling your duty to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity," said lawyer Serhiy Holovaty. "I propose that parliament remind the president of the law on state of emergency, which may be introduced when there is a real threat to constitutional order. Such a threat exists." Kravchuk retorted that a negotiated settlement was required to avoid conflicts in former Soviet territories like Nagorno-Karabakh pitting Armenia against Azerbaijan or Moldova's breakaway Dnestr region. "Deputies are trying to provoke me into saying we must use methods involving force," he said. "I want to approach this calmly, using our constitution and laws." Kravchuk's cautious words came after top officials had leaked reports that the president planned to seek direct presidential rule over Crimea. In the Crimean capital Simferopol, the local parliament was studiously ignoring the confrontation with Kiev, with deputies discussing ministerial appointments in commissions. Outside, self-styled Cossack warriors in tsarist-era uniforms patrolled the parliament's grounds. Dozens of mostly elderly demonstrators made speeches by tents set up to "defend" Crimea's Russian nationalist President Yury Meshkov. Crimean leaders deny the constitution threatens Ukraine's borders. Many say they want freedom to implement economic reform and point to Ukraine's delays in introducing change. About two-thirds of Crimea's 2.7 million residents are ethnic Russians. Voters elected Meshkov president in January and voted in a March referendum for closer ties with Moscow. Crimea belonged to Russia from 1783 to 1954. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine as a "gift" when internal Soviet borders meant little. The dispute has threatened to upset the fragile post-Soviet relationship between Ukraine and Russia.