World Bulletin/News Desk
Scottish-style devolution could be the best solution for the crisis in Crimea, a former Russian oligarch and critic of President Vladimir Putin told an audience in Ukraine on Monday.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released by Putin in December after a decade in jail, told university students in Kiev that giving the region the kind of autonomy from Ukraine that Scotland has inside the British state could ease Crimean demands for union with Russia, whose forces took over the peninsula a week ago.
Saying Moscow risked wrecking ties with its neighbour, the former oil magnate said: "The best option might be to keep Crimea within Ukraine, but with the broadest possible autonomy - for example, akin to what Scotland has within Great Britain."
Crimea, transferred from Russia to Ukraine in Soviet times and home to an ethnic Russian majority, already has the status of an autonomous republic. Local leaders who took power after last month's overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president have called a referendum for Sunday to seek union with Russia.
Khodorkovsky, 50, has offered to mediate in the crisis , though so far to little apparent effect.
Jailed for fraud after challenging Putin, Khodorkovsky was widely seen in the West as a political prisoner. Having left Russia on his release after being pardoned, he said he would not involve himself in politics, but arrived in Kiev last week saying he wanted to help avert war in the former Soviet state.
On Monday, he said Russia risked damaging itself by "adopting 19th-century practices of settling territorial disputes" and described himself as a staunch defender of Russia's own national, state interests, including against separatist movements in its Muslim North Caucasus regions.
"I call on my compatriots to defend land that belongs to Russia, including in the North Caucasus, including by force of arms," he said. "I must recognise that the Ukrainian people also have that right."
Council of Europe to send observers to Crimea
Ukraine has asked the Council of Europe human rights watchdog to help investigate the clashes that led to President Viktor Yanukovich's overthrow and to monitor minorities in Crimea, now controlled by pro-Russian forces.
Austria said on Monday that the Council, which it chairs until May, had also agreed with Ukraine to review the legitimacy of a planned Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the referendum was illegal and violated Ukraine's constitution.
Council of Europe experts will try to reach Crimea this week to observe problems experienced by minority groups, a spokesman for Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said in Kiev.
An unarmed military observer mission of the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had to turn back on Saturday after warning shots were fired when it tried to cross into Crimea.
The OSCE, a pan-European security forum set up in the Cold War, is trying to form a "contact group" of leading players in the crisis and arrange a broader monitoring mission for Ukraine.
Kurz's spokesman said the Council of Europe would monitor a panel with representatives from both sides of the conflict to investigate violence in recent weeks in Maidan, the Kiev square that became the cradle of the anti-Yanukovich revolt.
Ukraine's health ministry has said about 100 people died in the clashes. The dead included police, but witnesses said the vast majority were protesters killed when riot police charged or attacked them, and that some were killed by sniper bullets.
In talks in Kiev, the Ukrainian government and the Council of Europe agreed that legal experts from the Council and the so-called Venice Commission - its advisory body on constitutional matters - would review the validity of the March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should revert to Russia.
In the longer term, the 47-nation Council will also advise Ukraine on judicial, legislative and constitutional reform.
"We are glad the Ukrainian government accepted the Council of Europe's offer, which is a further contribution to attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully," Kurz said.
The Council of Europe is best known for drawing up the European Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force in 1953 and established the European Court of Human Rights.Last Mod: 10 Mart 2014, 17:31