March 1, 2014
Russia’s move to seize control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on Saturday led Ukraine to call up its military reserves on Sunday and warn Moscow against further incursions as Western powers scrambled to find a response to the crisis.
A day after the Russian Parliament granted President Vladimir V. Putin broad authority to use military force in response to the political upheaval in Ukraine that dislodged a Kremlin ally and installed a new, staunchly pro-Western government, the Ukrainian government in Kiev threatened war if Russia sent troops further into Ukraine.
Russian troops stripped of identifying insignia but using military vehicles bearing the license plates of Russia’s Black Sea force swarmed the major thoroughfares of Crimea on Saturday, encircled government buildings, closed the main airport and seized communication hubs, solidifying what began on Friday as a covert effort to control the largely pro-Russian region.
The announcement of the reserve mobilization was an attempt by the rattled new government in Kiev to draw a line against Mr. Putin, an effort expected to continue later on Sunday when NATO holds an emergency meeting on Ukraine and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, visits Kiev in a sign of Western support.
What began three months ago as a protest against the Ukrainian government has now turned into a big-power confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War and a significant challenge to international agreements on the sanctity of the borders of the post-Soviet nations.
Mr. Putin convened the upper house of Parliament in Moscow on Saturday to grant him authority to use force to protect Russian citizens and soldiers not only in Crimea but throughout Ukraine. Both actions — military and parliamentary — were a direct rebuff to President Obama, who on Friday pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Mr. Obama accused Russia on Saturday of a “breach of international law” and condemned the country’s military intervention, calling it a “clear violation” of Ukrainian sovereignty.
In Crimea, the situation was calm but hardly placid on Sunday morning, with fewer soldiers visible on the streets. Some heavily armed soldiers without insignia had taken up positions around small Ukrainian military bases, but without trying to enter them.
At Perevalnoye, a small Ukrainian base some 15 miles south of Simferopol on the road to Yalta, scores of soldiers with masks, helmets and goggles, in unmarked uniforms, ranged along one wall of the base. Inside there were about two dozen Ukrainian soldiers, equipped with an armored personnel carrier.
Col. Sergei Starozhenko, 38, the Ukrainian commander, told reporters the unmarked troops had arrived about 5 A.M. and “they want to block the base.”
He said he expected them to bring reinforcements and call for talks. Asked how many men he has at his command, he said simply: “Enough.”
In Sevastopol, pro-Russian “self-defense” forces were blocking the entrances of the main Ukrainian naval headquarters. There was no sign of Russian troops, Ukrainian officers were at work inside and armed Ukrainians guards were on patrol behind the closed gates.
Pro-Russia demonstrators put up a banner reading: “Sevastopol without Fascism,” and urged Ukrainian officers to come over to their side rather than serve the “illegal fascist regime” in Kiev. The demonstrators shoved packs of cigarettes, candy and bottles of water through gate for the Ukrainian guards.
“They have to make a choice — they either obey the fascists in Kiev or the people,” said Sergei Seryogin, a pro-Russia activist outside. Kiev, he said, “is illegal power” and should be ignored by all military and civil officials.
Russia kept up its propaganda campaign on Sunday in defense of the takeover, citing undefined threats to Russian citizens and proclaiming “massive defections” of Ukrainian forces in Crimea, which appeared to Western reporters to be unfounded. The state-owned Itar-Tass news agency cited the Russian border guard agency claiming that 675,000 Ukrainians had fled to Russia in January and February and that there were signs of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Russia insists that its intervention is only to protect its citizens and interests from chaos and disorder following the still unexplained departure from Kiev of former president Viktor F. Yanukovych.
“If ‘revolutionary chaos’ in Ukraine continues, hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into bordering Russian regions,” the border service said, according to Tass, providing one more unsubstantiated justification for Russian military intervention.
Late Saturday, Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said he had ordered Ukraine’s armed forces to full readiness because of the threat of “potential aggression.” He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.
Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, said he was “convinced” Russia would not intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine, “since this would be the beginning of war and the end of all relations” with Russia.
While Ukrainian forces in Crimea offered no resistance, there is concern that Russia might use the same pretext of citizens in peril to move forces into eastern Ukraine, which has many Russian speakers and heavy industry with close ties to Russia.
Large pro-Russia crowds rallied on Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, where there were reports of violence. In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, fears grew within the new provisional government that separatist upheaval would fracture the country just days after a winter of civil unrest had ended with the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych, the Kremlin ally who fled to Russia.
In addition to the risk of open war, it was a day of frayed nerves and set-piece political appeals that recalled ethnic conflicts of past decades in the former Soviet bloc, from the Balkans to the Caucasus.
Mr. Obama, who had warned Russia on Friday that “there will be costs” if it violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, spoke with Mr. Putin for 90 minutes on Saturday, according to the White House, and urged him to withdraw his forces back to their bases in Crimea and to stop “any interference” in other parts of Ukraine.
In a statement afterward, the White House said the United States would suspend participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8 economic conference to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June, and warned of “greater political and economic isolation” for Russia.
The Kremlin offered its own description of the call, in which it said Mr. Putin spoke of “a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens” in Ukraine, and warned that “in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron said that “there can be no excuse for outside military intervention” in Ukraine.
Canada said it was recalling its ambassador from Moscow and, like the United States, suspending preparations for the G-8 meeting.
At the United Nations, the Security Council held an emergency meeting on Ukraine for the second time in two days. The American ambassador, Samantha Power, called for an international observer mission, urged Russia to “stand down” and took a dig at the Russian ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, on the issue of state sovereignty, which the Kremlin frequently invokes in criticizing the West over its handling of Syria and other disputes.
“Russian actions in Ukraine are violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and pose a threat to peace and security,” she said.
The secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, also spoke with Mr. Putin on Saturday and described himself as “gravely concerned” and urged Mr. Putin to negotiate with officials in Kiev.
Mr. Yanukovych’s refusal, under Russian pressure, to sign new political and free trade agreements with the European Union last fall set off the civil unrest that last month led to the deaths of more than 80 people, and ultimately unraveled his presidency. The country’s new interim government has said it will revive those accords.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, said at a briefing in Kiev on Saturday evening that he had ordered Ukraine’s armed forces “to full combat readiness.” A Ukrainian military official in Crimea said Ukrainian soldiers had been told to “open fire” if they came under attack by Russian troops or others though it was unlikely they could pose a serious challenge to Russian forces.
Officials in Kiev demanded that Russia pull back its forces, and confine them to the military installations in Crimea that Russia has long leased from Ukraine.
“The presence of Russian troops in Crimea now is unacceptable,” said acting Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk. Decrying the Russian deployment as a “provocation,” he added, “We call on the government of the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its troops, return to the place of deployment and stop provoking civil and military confrontation in Ukraine.”
Sergey Tigipko, a former deputy prime minister of Ukraine and one-time ally of Mr. Yanukovych, said he flew to Moscow in hopes of brokering a truce.
The fast-moving events began in the morning, when the pro-Russia prime minister of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that he had sole control over the military and the police, and appealed to Mr. Putin for Russian help in safeguarding the region. He also said a public referendum on independence would be held on March 30.
The Kremlin quickly issued a statement saying that Mr. Aksyonov’s plea “would not be ignored,” and within hours the upper chamber of Russia’s Parliament had authorized military action.
The authorization cited Crimea, where Russia maintains important military installations, but covered the use of force in the entire “territory of Ukraine.” Parliament also asked Mr. Putin to withdraw Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
By nightfall, the scores of armed men in uniform who first appeared on Crimea’s streets on Friday had melted away from the darkened center of Simferopol, vanishing as mysteriously as they arrived.
For the new government in Kiev, the tensions in Crimea created an even more dire and immediate emergency than the looming financial disaster that they had intended to focus on in their first days in office.
A $15 billion bailout that Mr. Yanukovych secured from Russia has been suspended because of the political upheaval, and Ukraine is in desperate need of financial assistance. Mr. Yatsenyuk, the acting prime minister, had said that the government’s first responsibility was to begin negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and start to put in place the economic reforms and painful austerity measures that the fund requested in exchange for help.
In Crimea, however, officials said they did not recognize the new government, and declared that they had taken control.
Mr. Aksyonov, the regional prime minister, said he was ordering the regional armed forces, the Interior Ministry troops, the Security Service, border guards and other ministries under his direct control. “I ask anyone who disagrees to leave the service,” he said.
As soldiers mobilized across the peninsula, the region’s two main airports were closed, with civilian flights canceled, and they were guarded by heavily armed men in military uniforms.
Similar forces surrounded the regional Parliament building and the rest of the government complex in downtown Simferopol, as well as numerous other strategic locations, including communication hubs and a main bus station.
Near the entrance to Balaklava, the site of a Ukrainian customs and border post near Sevastopol, the column of military vehicles with Russian plates included 10 troop trucks, with 30 soldiers in each, two military ambulances and five armored vehicles.
Soldiers, wearing masks and carrying automatic rifles, stood on the road keeping people away from the convoy, while some local residents gathered in a nearby square waving Russian flags and shouting, “Russia! Russia!”
As with the troops in downtown Simferopol, the soldiers did not have markings on their uniforms.
There were also other unconfirmed reports of additional Russian military forces arriving in Crimea, including Russian ships landing in Feodosiya, in eastern Crimea.
Crimea, while part of Ukraine, has enjoyed a large degree of autonomy under an agreement with the federal government in Kiev since shortly after Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union.
The strategically important peninsula, which has been the subject of military disputes for centuries, has strong historic, linguistic and cultural ties to Russia. The population of roughly two million is predominantly Russian, followed by a large number of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, people of Turkic-Muslim origin.
In eastern Ukraine, which is also heavily pro-Russian, demonstrators in Kharkiv rallied and then seized control of a government building, pulling down the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and raising the blue, white and red Russian one. Scores of people were injured as protesters scuffled with supporters of the new government in Kiev.
In Donetsk, also in the east, several thousand people held a rally in the city center, local news agencies reported, with many chanting pro-Russian slogans and demanding a public referendum on secession from Ukraine.
In Moscow, the parliamentary debate on authorizing military action was perfunctory, but laced with remarks that echoed the worst days of the Cold War. Underscoring the extent to which the crisis has become part of Russia’s broader grievances against the West, lawmakers focused on Mr. Obama and the United States as much as on the fate of Russians in Ukraine.
“All this is being done under the guise of democracy, as the West says,” Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, one member of Parliament, said during the debate. “They tore apart Yugoslavia, routed Egypt, Libya, Iraq and so on, and all this under the false guise of peaceful demonstrations.” He added, “So we must be ready in case they will unleash the dogs on us.”
Yuri L. Vorobyov, the body’s deputy chairman, said Mr. Obama’s warning on Friday was a cause for Russia to act. “I believe that these words of the U.S. president are a direct threat,” he said. “He has crossed the red line and insulted the Russian people.”
Sergey Aksyonov was born on November 26th, 1972 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Aksyonov
November 26th, 1972
26 +1+9+7+2 = 45 = his “secret” number = Violence. Things can go horribly wrong.
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