SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, defying the country’s pro-Western leaders, called on the national parliament to follow Russia’s example and recognise Georgia’s two separatist regions.
Crimea, a Ukrainian region with a degree of self-government, is populated mainly by ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers and local leaders have often adopted pro-Russian positions or even sought to rejoin Russia.
Some analysts suggested that Russia’s conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia could rekindle pro-Moscow or even separatist sentiment in Crimea.
The local assembly voted 79 to 8 to urge Ukraine’s national parliament to recognise the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Only Russia and Nicaragua have done so, an action denounced by the United States and European Union.
The appeal said Crimea’s parliament “expresses its backing for the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their right to self-determination and supports the Russian Federation’s actions in ensuring security in those republics”.
Crimea’s parliament is dominated by the Regions Party of former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, which has been friendlier to Russia than other political forces and has called for recognition of the two regions.
Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders, committed to joining NATO, denounced Moscow’s intervention in South Ossetia in support of what Moscow says are Russian nationals there. They deny any suggestion that a similar conflict could erupt in Crimea.
Crimea became a part of Russia in the late 18th century and was formally handed to Soviet Ukraine in 1954, when the collapse of the Soviet Union was unthinkable.
The region remains autonomous, though Ukrainian authorities cracked down on separatism in the mid-1990s.
Russian nationalist politicians call periodically for the return of at least Sevastopol, the Crimean port where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based under a lease agreement.
The Kremlin dissociates itself from such statements and says it respects Ukraine’s existing borders. But it also complains that Ukraine pursues policies harming the interests of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers.
Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Richard Balmforth