Dueling Protests Held in Moscow Ahead of Crimea Referendum

PHOTO: Demonstrators carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags march to oppose President Vladimir Putins policies in Ukraine, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
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Dueling protests were held in Moscow today, in favor of and against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and its potential annexation of Crimea.

The rallies came a day before Crimea is to hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine and amid reports of Russia escalating its military presence in the neighboring country.

At the pro-intervention rally near Red Square, many of the 15,000 reported participants marched in columns wearing red uniforms.

At the larger anti-war rally, tens of thousands marched carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags. They chanted “Crimea no!” and slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

PHOTO: Demonstrators wearing red and two WWII veterans, right, march in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo
PHOTO: Demonstrators wearing red and two WWII veterans, right, march in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014.

“I am against war - Russia against Ukraine - and I think Ukraine is independent country and we should solve all the problems with diplomatic methods,” protester Yuliana Badrova said.

“I am afraid that this will cause world war and that’s why I am here,” Yelena Sviridova, another protester, said. “I am afraid we will not stop him [Putin]. We are here but he doesn’t listen to us.”

The latest news on Ukraine

On Saturday Russia vetoed a US-led resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would have declared the referendum illegal. The United States and Europe have warned of sanctions if the vote goes ahead and Russia does not back down.

PHOTO: Demonstrators hold Russian flags and a poster We trust Putin during a demonstration in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo
PHOTO: Demonstrators hold Russian flags and a poster "We trust Putin" during a demonstration in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Also on Saturday, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Russian troops had moved beyond Crimea for the first time, taking control of a village just north of the region. A senior State Department official said they had no independent confirmation that Russian troops had entered areas of Ukraine outside Crimea.

"We remain concerned about any attempt by Russia to increase tensions or threaten the Ukrainian people and - as we have long said - if Russia continues to take escalatory steps, there will be consequences," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

After reports that two pro-Russia protesters were killed in eastern Ukraine on Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that it had received “many” requests for help from citizens in Ukraine and that “these applications will be considered.”

Together with another statement on Friday regarding another two deaths a day earlier - in which Russia said it “reserves the right” to protect its countrymen in Ukraine because the Kiev government is unable to do so - Russia appears to be preparing a justification for military incursion into Ukraine if that's what it decides to do. That justification appears to be one on humanitarian grounds in response to cries for help from across the border.

Outside of the two rallies in Moscow, most people who spoke to ABC News expressed support for Crimea’s referendum on independence and the possibility of the region joining Russia.

“I think that the referendum is legal and people will decide what should be done,” a young man named Alexey said.

He rejected threats of sanctions, saying he did not think they would be very effective.

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