Sergey Aksionov: The man behind the drive to hand Crimea to Russia

Just two weeks ago, Sergey Aksionov was unknown, the head of a political party in Crimea few had heard of. Now he's the new prime minister of the Ukrainian peninsula, and the leader of the drive to hand Crimea to Russia.

Sergey Aksionov is Crimea's interim prime minister, and the leader of the drive to hand Crimea to Russia.
How did he do it? Well, let's just say he had some help: Thousands of Russian soldiers, who rolled across Crimea, blockading the Ukrainian military in their bases before they realized what was happening.

Aksionov tries to avoid Western media. He wouldn't agree to speak with CBS News, but his deputy did.

Dimitry Polonsky, Sergey Aksionov's deputy, spoke with CBS News.
Dimitry Polonsky said Russian President Vladimir Putin only sent in his troops because Aksionov asked him to.

"In the turbulent time after the riots in Kiev, Aksionov appealed to the Russian President to help us protect lives and keep the peace," Polonsky said.

Putin was only too happy to oblige.

Aksionov's armed militias, which he'd been recruiting for some time, got Moscow's backing to whip up pro-Russian sentiment.

On Feb. 27, emotional crowds gathered in front of Crimea's parliament. Aksionov showed up, and waded in, as if to calm the situation. In fact, he was on his way into the building to seize power. In short order, local independent television was taken off the air and all flights except those to and from Moscow were canceled.

An inflammatory referendum campaign was launched, the results of which the governments of America, Europe and Ukraine say will not be legal.

"We aren't here to deliver what America wants, but what the Crimean people want," Polonsky said. "So don't threaten us."

The real threat for Aksionov's men are prominent Ukrainian leaders, dozens of whom have disappeared so far. On Friday night, the head of the military hospital was taken away in handcuffs by anonymous armed men and Russian paramilitaries. His whereabouts are unknown. CBS News spoke to his terrified employees. Their message: Please help us.
  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."