MOSCOW, March 8 (RIA Novosti) – A massive rally took place in Moscow on Friday to support the decision of authorities in Ukraine’s Crimea republic to secede and join Russia.
Moscow police estimated the turnout at the sanctioned rally outside the Kremlin at 65,000.
The government of the breakaway Ukrainian region said earlier this week that it wants to secede and join Russia. A popular vote on the issue is set for March 16.
Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian region in southeastern Ukraine, was recently invaded by thousands of troops widely alleged to be Russian military.
Official Moscow has stubbornly denied involvement despite the fact that the troops speak Russian, use Russian military equipment and license plates and have repeatedly admitted their Russian affiliation on camera.
The Crimean crisis follows the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, late last month.
Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, was deposed after a bloody standoff with the erstwhile opposition, which has since gained control of the national government.
The local Crimean government and the Kremlin have both refused to recognize Ukraine’s newly installed national government, which, in turn, has declared Crimea’s upcoming referendum on secession to be illegal.