Sergei Aksyonov has taken control of Ukraine's break-away region and wants it to become part of Russia. It may be too late to stop him
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On March 10, about 200 armed troops stood in formation in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, to take an oath of loyalty to the new Crimean army. One by one, the soldiers stepped up to the memorial flame at the city’s monument to World War II and read from a paper: “I pledge to be faithful to the people of Crimea,” each said, talking about a country that does not officially exist yet.
The ceremony unfolded just days before the new, jury-rigged government of Crimea was due to hold a plebiscite on its secession from Ukraine. The vote, which offers 2 million Crimeans a choice between joining Russia and staying within Ukraine but with almost total autonomy, is a foregone conclusion. “I’m certain the referendum will pass,” says Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of the separatist republic and its military commander in chief. “And then we will be reunited with our Russian motherland.”
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 25 years ago, the forces of history have spun mostly westward in Europe as former Soviet-bloc states have turned more capitalist and pluralist. But now, on the strategic peninsula of Crimea, those same forces have begun to favor Moscow.