Is this the Kremlin plan to divide Ukraine? 100,000 Russians sign call for 'New Russia’ which would include Crimea – and then map disappears from website
- In under 24 hours, almost 100,000 had signed support for dividing country
- Politicians who have taken power in Ukraine see a threat in such a scenario
- Issued strong warnings over risk of separatism in Russian-speaking areas
- Putin has so far remained silent on his intentions over Ukraine crisis
- But he met with his top security aides yesterday to discuss the matters
An online petition calling on Vladimir Putin to invade eastern Ukraine was dramatically deleted today after it went viral on the Russian-language web.
A map linked to the petition showed how Ukraine would look if Moscow annexed its eastern regions, creating a separate country or super-region called 'New Russia'.
In less than 24 hours, almost 100,000 had expressed support for dividing the country.
A map linked to a petition calling on Vladimir Putin to invade eastern Ukraine, showed how Ukraine would look if Moscow annexed its eastern regions, creating a separate country or super-region called 'New Russia' (in red) from Ukraine (in green)
A similar map shows the political divide that has developed since the country gained independence in 1991. Marked is the Black Sea city of Sevastopol, where the country's fugitive president is believed to have fled
Politicians who have taken power in the new Ukraine clearly see a threat in such a scenario and yesterday issued strong warnings over the risk of separatism in Russian-speaking areas.
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov warned of 'very dangerous signs of separatism' in several regions and was yesterday locked in meetings with his security services on how to prevent the country fracturing.
Retired heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko launched his bid to become president hoping his fame could reach across the divisions now splitting the ex-Soviet state and unify Ukraine.
Another politician who led opposition to toppled leader Viktor Yanukovych warned of a risk of Putin grabbing control of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol - which is also the HQ of the Kremlin's Black Sea fleet.
'The situation in Sevastopol has always been complex, and is even more so now. We are calling on our Russian partners not to abuse it,' said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Fatherland faction.
'Russia has military presence in Ukraine,' he said. 'We will not tolerate any separatist attempts.'
Yesterday it was confirmed that Russian military units in Crimea had increased their state of readiness but denied reports they were involved in an operation to smuggle ex-president Viktor Yanukovych to Moscow.
Women holding flowers pass by barricades in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Ukraine
Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov is due to form a unity government, as UK and US foreign ministers meet to discuss emergency financial assistance for the country
Photos of those killed in recent violence are seen at a make-shift memorial. Ukraine's parliament voted on Tuesday to send fugitive President Viktor Yanukovich to be tried by the International Criminal Court for 'serious crimes' committed during violent anti-government protests in which scores were killed
While Putin has so far remained silent on his intentions, he met with his top security aides yesterday to discuss Ukraine.
Moscow MPs, meanwhile, demanded passports for ethnic Russians in Ukraine, with new legislation this week introduced into parliament.
MP Leonid Slutsky - in charge of parliamentary links with ethnic Russian abroad - warned: "Ukraine is a gunpowder keg and any provocations could result in bloodshed."
In Crimea last night, he claimed: 'We think that Yanukovych is still the legitimate president.'
It was too early to discuss potential help for mainly Russian areas of Ukraine, such as Crimea, he said. But a raft of measures would be drawn up in the near future.
'We will not abandon our brothers in Ukraine and more than a million of our compatriots in the current clashes. They have found themselves in a difficult position with the sudden impending collapse of the Russian-speaking sphere.'
The opposition Communist Party in Russian appealed to Putin not to recognise the new authorities in Kiev, while senior senator Mikhail Margelov claimed there was 'a lack of order' at Ukraine's nuclear power stations.
An anti-government protestor acts as a traffic warden at a crossroads in the centre of Kiev
A man kneels on the ground draped in a Ukrainian flag during a funeral of an anti-government demonstrator in Independence square
'Ukraine has no normal government so far,' he said.
'This cannot but worry Ukraine and its neighbours.'
The Russian-language petition website had envisaged these regions being swallowed up by Russia: Odessa, Nikolaev, Kherson, Crimea, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhie, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk.
The petition was styled: 'To the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin - to annex the South-East of Ukraine to Russia.'
It was backed by at least 93,436 people before being abruptly deleted.
It is unclear who organised it. Nor is it known if it had any official sanction.
There were signs last night the Kremlin was seeking to calm a political and media frenzy over Ukraine, with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov toning down the rhetoric.
Russia had a 'position of non-intervention in Ukraine's internal affairs,' he said.