Russia invites EU far-right to observe Crimea vote
By Benjamin Fox
The Russian government has invited some of Europe's far-right parties to observe this weekend's referendum in Crimea.
The leader of France’s National Front party, Marine Le Pen, told press at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (12 March) that her executive has not yet decided whether to go.
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The Austrian Freedom party, a National Front ally, also got an invitation.
Crimeans will go to the polls on Sunday to pick one of two options: “Are you in favour of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation?” or “Are you in favour of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution? [on semi-autonomy inside Ukraine].”
With Russian soldiers and paramilitaries in control of streets and public buildings, the vote will effectively be held at gunpoint.
EU leaders have said the referendum is illegal.
The G7 club of wealthy nations, which also includes Canada, Japan, and the US, described it as a "deeply flawed process which would have no moral force.”
The OSCE, a Vienna-based multilateral body, has also declined to send observers because the vote was called in violation of Ukraine’s constitution.
But for her part, Le Pen voiced sympathy for Russia, even if it opts to annex the territory after Sunday’s result.
"Crimea is not like the rest of the country … it is very closely linked to Russia,” she said, adding: “We have to take account of the history of Crimea.”
"From the outset of the crisis we [the National Front] have said that Ukraine should maintain its sovereignty but allow the three main regions to have a lot of autonomy.”
She described the prospect of EU economic sanctions against Russia as "dangerous" and echoed Russian propaganda on the new authorities in Kiev.
"We should have some qualms about the new government because it was not elected … We know that there are neo-Nazis and extremists in this government,” she said.
With Europe's far-right keen to play up the Ukrainian crisis as an EU foreign policy blunder, Austrian MEP Andreas Moelzer, from the Freedom Party, told Austrian news agency APA also on Wednesday that he is considering Putin’s offer.
"We are among the few who try to understand Russia," he said.
The Soviet Union made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.
Some 58 percent of its 2 million people are ethnic Russians.
But ethnic Russians became the majority only in World War II, when Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Bulgarians, Jews, Germans, Greeks, and Tatars from the region.
The 800,000 or so Ukrainian speakers who live there now form the majority in nine districts.
The 250,000 or so Tatars in Crimea have appealed for EU, US, and Turkish help to keep them from falling under Putin’s rule.