Fear is shaping the political landscape in Crimea

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Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk in formation near a town in Crimea. Photo: REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Fear is shaping events in Crimea, the multi-ethnic peninsula that juts into the Black Sea and, not for the first time, finds itself at the heart of a tussle between great powers East and West.

A complicated set of agreements has kept the peace here for decades. But a referendum set for Sunday week is set to render them all null and void.

Nearly 60 per cent of the people in Crimea are pro-Russian. Roughly a quarter are Ukrainian.

A pro-Russian supporter takes part in a rally in Simferopol, Crimea. Credit: Reuters

Most of the rest are Tartars, Muslims who for historical reasons loathe and are frightened of Moscow.

The non-Russians are likely to try to undermine the referendum with a boycott. Nonetheless, the results are expected to show that a majority of people here want to join Russia.

The main reason is because they now fear Kiev, hundreds of miles to the north. They believe that neo-fascists have taken over the Ukrainian government and that all Russians in Ukraine now face persecution.

Pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in the Crimean town of Yevpatoria. Credit: REUTERS/Maks Levin

The referendum will be a problem for the Western powers because by and large they support the broad principle of self-determination.

That's why there's soon to be a vote in Scotland.