Crimea has voted for Russia, but the US does not recognize the referendum, with Republican John McCain among those demanding long-term support for Ukraine. Ukrainians living in Washington fear one thing: more bloodshed.
They pray for Ukraine. Eight thousand kilometers from the Crimea, Russians and Ukrainians stand side by side at services at the Russian Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist in Washington. The decision by the residents of Crimea to turn their backs on Ukraine provokes mixed feelings. "The hope is no more bloodshed" says a Ukrainian native. But she understands the vote in the Crimea. "Most people who live in Crimea consider themselves Russians," she says.
"And they may actually get very offended when I introduce them as Ukrainians. I have a lot of friends from Sevastopol and they consider themselves Russian," she said. So I think it's just natural for them to join Russia." Her Russian-American friend agrees. She fully understands Putin's actions in Crimea. He cares about the people in Crimea, she says quietly, but confidently. "I think uniting is a good thing to do. You know, it's never bad. It makes both regions stronger."
"I don't want war"
But it could also weaken them, worries another immigrant from Kyiv. If Russia's annexation of Crimea with Russia causes cracks elsewhere - such as between ethnic groups. He fears for his relatives and friends back home. "My parents still live in Kiev," he says. "And I just don't want any war there. And I hope that people are reasonable enough and there are no extremists on either side."
This is also the fear of priest Victor Potapov. He has no problem with the annexation of Crimea, claiming it had belonged to Russia "for 300 years" before Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula on the Black Sea to Ukraine in 1954. But the referendum on Sunday could have a domino effect, he says. "What I'm afraid of is that people in cities like Donetsk or Luhansk will follow suit. And they'll probably be calling for a referendum, too. That might take a dangerous turn."
Criticism of US policy
Potapov embodies the two sides of the conflict like few others. It's not just that he has an ethnically mixed flock. Or that he himself is half-Russian, half-Ukrainian. He says he has two homes: A spiritual home in Russia. And one in the country in which he lives and that he love so much: the United States.
But he can't understand the way Washington describes President Vladimir Putin as the aggressor. "You see the double standard. Americans can shoot drones anywhere they want without impunity. America can start wars. We can do that. We can go to Afghanistan and stay there for over a decade. And what do we get for it?"
McCain: 'Regain Crimea'
That's not how the US government sees things. In a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington sees the referendum as illegal and does not recognize the result. And on CNN conservative Senator John McCain repeated his call to assist Ukraine militarily to prevent a possible further advance of Russian troops.
Crimea was indeed lost to Russia, at least for now, McCain admitted. But now it was necessary to prevent Putin's troops from advancing further: "What I would like to see is a longterm commitment to freedom and democracy and the assistance that we can provide Ukraine - including over time regaining Crimea. That would be one of our goals." The Obama administration has rejected military aid. It intends to support Ukraine only diplomatically and financially.
Rarely has there been such unanimity across the Atlantic, Germany's ambassador in Washington, Peter Ammon, said on CNN. "We are singing from the same hymn book. We will have the European foreign ministers meeting [on Monday, 17.03.2014] and they will discuss sanctions for the first time. And these sanctions probably will include travel bans, visa bans and asset freezes. So this is really hard stuff."
Crimea only an appetizer?
Retired federal judge Bohdan Futey warns that the referendum could have negative consequences for Crimea. The legal expert, who was a member of the working group on the constitution in his native Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union and who has also served as an election observer, describes the secession as a completely illegal act - whether in terms of the Ukrainian constitution or international law. "The referendum does not pass the test of legitimacy."
He said the referendum was rushed through in ten days. It was organized by the self-appointed leader of the Crimea, who represents the Russian Unity Party, which received only 4 percent of the vote in the last elections. No one recognizes the referendum, he said. After all, Russia was the only country to vote against Saturday's UN Security Council resolution condemning it. Even wavering China abstained.
He also warned that there would be consequences for the residents of Crimea themselves:"Don't forgert: Crimea has no water of its own, no electricity. How is Crimea going to obtain this? I don't want to basically insinuate that, but in order to have that they are going to have to negotiate with Ukraine somehow about how to get water and electricity."
Futey's greatest fear is that Crimea could be only the prelude to Putin's invasion of eastern Ukraine. "That would present a tremendous problem for the European Union, NATO and the entire world."
Concern for eastern Ukraine
For the Ukrainian Iryna Fedets, a staff member at the conservative Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation, it's no longer a question of if, but when. "For me it's maybe now only a question of time and maybe some kind of reason - something that could trigger this invasion," she says.
It's important for the West to use all diplomatic avenues to promote a peaceful solution. "We have to consider Russia as an aggressor," she says. But, she warns, it's important not to give Putin an excuse to intervene. Violent escalations such as those that took place recently in Donetsk should be avoided.