Uncertainly looms as Crimea creeps closer to secession


Pro-Russia supporters attend a rally in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol March 8, 2014.


REUTERS/Baz Ratner

No common vision.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

That's how Russia's foreign minister summed up his talks today with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the crisis in Ukraine. Kerry was more direct. He said the US and the west would not recognize the outcome of Sunday's referendum in Crimea. Despite US efforts to delay it, the vote on whether Crimea should secede from Ukraine and join Russia is expected to happen.

The CBC's Derek Stoffel is in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. He says that while Russia supporters there are out waving flags, those who support staying in Ukraine are keeping a low profile.

“It is harder to see the pro-Ukrainians,” he says. “The pro-Russian messages are all over the place. But the Ukrainians don’t have the same organization and they don’t have the same money, and also, they don’t want to go out because they have been roughed up when they’ve had rallies. “

We know the pro-Ukrainian side exists, he says, but they are not speaking up nearly as vocally as the Russians.

But everyone agrees on one thing: the vote will be for Russia. Ukrainians think the vote will be rigged. There are rumors of ballot stuffing and just a sense of the inevitable.

And that gets to the next question: what happens after the referendum?

Stoffel says he went to a bar in the area to talk with residents. A couple of young Ukrainians who support Ukraine are weighing their options. One said he’d have to move back to Ukraine. Note the phrasing on that. He already treats Crimea as part of Russia.

But others Stoffel met at the bar are excited about the possible return to Russia. He met an older woman who told him she’s been waiting to cast her ballot for Russia for more than 20 years.

“She’s very exited by all this,” he says.

Russia is sending more troops and supplies ahead of the vote. He says the total number of Russian troops on the peninsula is now at about 30,000.

“That’s a lot more than the 6,000 who were based here before everything broke out about three weeks ago,” he adds.

Russia’s completely taken over the shared naval base. Ukrainian sailors are stranded inside the port, abroad their ships. Russia sunk several of their own ships to block them from leaving. The sailors told Stoffel they plan to keep the oath they made to Ukraine, even after the vote.

But this leads us back to the biggest of questions: what’s next?

Stoffel says the only thing certain is uncertainty.