Russians in Moscow, like many in Ukraine, are divided over Russian troops intervening in Crimea. But not all viewpoints are welcome equally here.
A crowd of several hundred protesters milled outside Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday chanting "No to War." Young protesters expressed their disgust with the Russian Senate's unanimous vote in favor of intervention in Crimea. Older Moscovites like Margarita, a professor at a local institute, said the situation recalled for her the Soviet Union's 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the feelings of shame that lingered.
But that gathering was what is known here as "an unsanctioned rally" — unapproved by the authorities. Police presence was heavy and Russia's OMON security forces soon moved in to make arrests. Several hundred protesters were detained.
Across town, a "sanctioned" march started a few hours later. As police casually looked on, several thousand Russians carried signs expressing their support for peace — a peace enforced through Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
At this rally, banners excoriated NATO, the European Union, and, in particular, the United States for backing what many here consider "the fascists" in Kiev.
Maria, a pro-Kremlin activist, was wearing a bib with Vladimir Putin's face on it. She suggested that if Moscow didn't come to Ukraine's rescue, the fascists would come to Russia next.
“Unfortunately, Ukraine isn't the final goal,” she said. “Their final goal is to destroy Russia. And what's really happening is a military intervention by the West … and that's why Crimea is asking for help. They see what's happening and understand that Russia is the only one that can save them.”
It wasn't clear, though, whether all the marchers in the pro-government rally were there entirely of their own volition. Reports surfaced in the Russian independent press that participation in the rally was mandatory for some government workers. Many walked in rank and file positions with commanders in the lead. It seemed almost too organized.
Some public figures are actually calling for both sides to take a step back.
Dmitri Gudkov, a Russian lawmaker with ties to the opposition, suggests that Russia and Western powers should develop a joint "Marshall Plan" for Ukraine that would reflect the interests of all parties, while providing financial assistance to rescue Ukraine's economy.
Gudkov warns that those Ukrainians who support Russian intervention and are opposed to the new "Maidan" government in Kiev may not like taking orders from Moscow in its place. “They'll find out what it means to have appointed judges, governors, mayor," Gudkov says. "What it means to have elections taken away. In reality, they won't be in charge of their regions, Moscow will.”
But that's a message few are likely to hear in Russia.
From the very beginning of the events in Kiev, Russian state media have portrayed the Maidan protests in Kiev as driven by radicals intent on harming Ukraine's Russian population. The decision by the new Ukrainian government to remove Russian as an official second national language has only confirmed those suspicions.
Alexei Zhivov, a self-described Russian nationalist, argues that Ukraine and Russia are really just one country. And that the Maidan protesters, backed by western powers, are trying to tear Ukraine out of Russia's embrace. "We should be one pan-Slavic government," he insists.
His wish may be closer than he suspects. There are conflicting reports over whether Russia has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea to surrender.
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