Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Putin Orders Military Readiness As Crimea Puts Russian Leader In Power
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has ordered military readiness exercises and a state of alert in the Russian strategic base of Sebastopol in the Crimea and along the Ukraine's borders:
Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said Moscow was "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea" and that measures were being taken to ensure the security of the facilities and arsenals of its Black Sea naval fleet, which is based in the fiercely pro-Russian Crimean city of Sebastopol.
The autonomous eastern peninsula, which is home to a largely ethnic Russian population, is at the centre of tensions over the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Moscow, by pro-European protesters at the weekend.
"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (1000 GMT) today," Interfax quoted Mr Shoigu as saying.
At the same time, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement today that 'extremists' were "imposing their will" on Ukraine and fomenting tension and unrest.
In the Crimea itself, where the population is 60% ethnic Russian, the local assembly in the Crimean capital of Simferopol is debating holding a referendum to decide whether the Crimea will remain part of Ukraine or return to Russia, which had control of the Crimea until Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine administratively within the old Soviet Union back in the 1960's. Numerous clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and non-Russians, mainly Crimean Tatars who want to remain part of Ukraine are being reported.
And in Sebastopol itself, ethnic Russians have kicked out the city administrator and installed their own mayor, who promptly announced the formation of paramilitary 'self-defense' units to defend the Crimea against the "fascists" in Kiev.
Yesterday, the country's interim president, Oleksander Turchynov called the new Ukrainian parliament to discus "the question of not allowing any signs of separatism and threats to Ukraine's territorial integrity and punishing people guilty of this," according to an official statement while Russia caled on the EU's Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to condemn the rise of "nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment" in western Ukraine and 'anti-Russian' activity.
In reality of course, the Ukrainian parliament has no power to enforce anything and would probably be much better off concentrating on forming a government. Any moves to bring the ethnic Russian population to heel as part of Ukraine would provide the Russians with just the excuse they need to send the tanks in.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov continues to say Russia will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, but if the Crimea breaks away with Russian assistance , then he can say that technically, he kept his word. The same is true of eastern sections of the Ukraine where there are also a great many ethnic Russians whom retain their loyalty to Russia. Russia retaking the Crimea would essentially give them control of Ukraine's sea coast on the Black Sea and effective control of the country.