Pro-Russia demonstrators and those supporting Ukraine’s new pro-Western interim leaders confronted each other in the southern city of Simferopol on Wednesday.
Small-scale clashes broke out between the shouting protesters, some of whom were bloodied in the incident, which happened in the courtyard of an administrative building in the Crimean capital.
The Crimean peninsula is mainly made up of Russian speakers who support Moscow, though it also includes a minority Tatar group that tends to take an anti-Russia stance.
There are concerns that Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people, could face an East-West divide after weeks of widespread protests prompted the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych.
Kerry: ‘No zero-sum game’
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said the country should not be forced to choose between Moscow, its former Soviet master, and Washington.
“This is not a zero-sum game; it is not a West versus East, it should not be…. this is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future,” said Kerry.
Russia flexes muscle
President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of the armed forces across western Russia on Wednesday, news agencies reported, flexing Moscow’s military muscle amid tension with the West over Ukraine.
“In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (1000 GMT) today,” Interfax quoted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
Putin has ordered several such surprise drills in various parts of Russia since he returned to the presidency in 2012, saying the military must be kept on its toes, but the geopolitical overtones could hardly have been clearer this time.
The western district borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO nations and Russia.
Putin has made no public comment on Ukraine since Yanukovych was driven from power over the weekend.
Shoigu was also quoted as saying that Russia is “carefully watching what is happening in Crimea, what is happening around the Black Sea Fleet.”
Russia’s Black Sea Naval Fleet is based on the Crimean coast on territory Moscow is leasing from Kyiv.