By bringing out thousands of men, many with the physiques of wrestlers, the well-organized Tatar community convinced the parliament to cancel a special session that could have discussed a referendum on Crimean independence.

Now representatives of Crimea’s three biggest ethnic groups — Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars — will sit down and negotiate the formation of a new regional government, said Liliya Muslimova, Chubarov’s spokeswoman.

Fisticuffs and bloody noses appeared unavoidable as pro-Kiev protestors pushed through a spindly police line to a considerably smaller pro-Moscow rally.

Protesters chanting “Russia! Russia!” were surprisingly incoherent about what they really wanted. The most frequent answer to the question of whether Crimea should break off and become a part of Russia was that Ukraine should join the Moscow-led Customs Union and not the European Union. The Customs Union, consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, is the Kremlin’s latest plan to stand up to the West and create a regional powerhouse of its own.