The head of the intergalactic empire is running for president of Ukraine, pledging to return Crimea to the embattled country. “I alone can make an empire out of a republic to restore former glory, to return lost territories and pride for this country,” an unnamed political activist dressed as Darth Vader said in a statement, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The Imperial Guard, Storm Troopers, and Chewbacca stood by the dark lord of Star Wars fame at a press conference held Saturday to introduce his candidacy. Darth Vader is the chosen representative of the Ukrainian Internet Party (UIP), said party head Dmitry Golubov, an ex-convict who served time for cybercrimes.
Vader’s antics are well-known in Ukrainian political circles. Activists founded the UIP in 2010 with the stated goals of expanding Internet, digital media, and computer usage across the Black Sea country. In 2011, Darth Vader demanded a plot of land to park his space ship. The government has mostly ignored the fringe party, but on Feb. 26, the Sith lord gave the Ukrainian Justice Ministry an ultimatum to recognize the UIP.
Saturday’s announcement, which was not an April Fools’ joke but perhaps provided some much-needed levity, came as more than a dozen people declared their candidacies for Ukraine’s top office. The May 25 presidential election and Kiev mayoral vote are taking place against the backdrop of Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, Ukraine’s dire economic straits, and rumblings of discontent in the country’s mainly Russian-speaking eastern provinces.
The current 20-point favorite in the polls is businessman Petro Poroshenko, who owns the massive candy company, Roshen. The Ukrainian candy industry and its factories have become political footballs in Russia and Crimea, where they face seizure by pro-Russian forces. Poroshenko, who has voiced support for closer ties with Europe, does have a financial stake in the outcome of the crisis.
Whoever wins in May will face an already tense economic and militarily-charged conflict in Crimea. Russia said Monday it was pulling a battalion of several hundred troops away from the Ukrainian border but kept tens of thousands in place. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski underlined Western suspicions about Russia’s intentions by saying he hoped the withdrawal announcement wasn’t linked to April Fools’ day. And earlier today, NATO foreign ministers ordered an end to civilian and military cooperation with Russia.
While the United States and Russia say they agree the crisis in Ukraine requires a diplomatic resolution, four hours of talks Sunday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov failed to break a tense East-West deadlock over how to proceed. Russia expressed its desire that the Ukrainian mainland fracture into a loose, decentralized federation.
“The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting, which was held at the Russian ambassador’s residence in France and included a working dinner. “It certainly does not create the climate that we need for dialogue.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will create a special economic zone in Crimea—a peninsula of 2 million people—that will include pensions for the elderly and incentives for business with lower taxes, simpler rules, and tourist destinations.
But not everyone in Crimea is impressed with Russia’s plans. The leadership of Tatars adopted a resolution stating their right to self-determination and requesting international recognition as a “national territorial autonomy.” The congress of leading Tatar figures, held in the Crimean town of Bakchysarai, stopped short of making any decisions on whether to accept Russian citizenship or any possible participation in a government loyal to Moscow.
Tatars ruled the Crimean peninsula from the 15th century until the Russian empire took it over in the 18th century, and the ethnic group has faced periods of Russian oppression ever since. “Ukraine, too, wasn’t our home, but at least it was a democracy,” Tatar congress delegate Ilver Ametov said. “There’s a story we have about the dog who ran to Moscow because things were better over there, but ran back to Ukraine because at least here he’s allowed to bark.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.