|Russia's deployment in the region “was to protect Russians in Crimea”, assured Putin.|
Sources: Theguardian.com; Bloomerang.com; Huffingtonpost.com
The green light the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin on 1 March 2014 included the use of military force to protect Russian interests in Ukraine. On 28 February, the airport at Sevastopol was occupied by well-armed, masked gunmen believed to be pro-Russian militia. This was followed by the occupation of the airport at Simferopol and seat of the 100-member unicameral parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, leaving the newly installed government under President Turchynov powerless to react. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanokovych left Ukraine on 27 February.
Russian intervention on the Crimean peninsula cannot be denied. Military trucks and armoured personnel carriers seen on their move from Sevastopol to Simferopol were identified as belonging to the Russian military. Air space over Crimea has since been under Russian control. Unusual helicopter movements were also observed. “We are on the brink of a disaster”, Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine said.
After an emergency meeting about Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council in New York on 1 March, Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin stressed :“We have an agreement with Ukraine on the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and we operate under this agreement”.
Crimea, as an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine since 1917, has close historic ties to Russia. Hence, Russian is de facto the official language and culture.
The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanokovych claimed in a news conference in the Russian city of Rostov on 27 February, that he is still Ukraine’s lawful President, describing the “fascist threat posed by extremist forces” in Kiev as widely influenced by the West.
Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr V. Turchynov stated that Russian troops were being deployed to Crimea, because Russia has a major naval base in Sevastopol. These movements occurred in violation of the two countries’ agreements”, he said. Meanwhile, some 18,000 Russian soldiers were deployed on the peninsula. In a telephone conversation, President Putin told Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel that their deployment in the region “was to protect Russians in Crimea”.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet is in Crimea since 1783 and operates in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Today, it represents a major operational-strategic sub-unit of the Russian Navy.
Under the command of Vice Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, the fleet is composed of some 40 combatants. Older GRISHA I/III missile corvettes were seen patrolling off Sochi “to provide safety and security at the Sochi Winter Olympics”, Kremlin representatives told. Russian warships were blocking Ukrainian Navy ships at their common base with the Black Sea Fleet. Reported moves on the Crimean peninsula may have parallels to steps Russia took before the war with Georgia in 2008. Kiev meanwhile has mobilised troops and reservists across the country.
The Crimea crisis put the Americans and the European Union in a great debacle. Foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland were in Kiev to hold crisis talks with former President Yanokovych in an effort to end the Kiev standoff. US President Barack Obama understood that the West cannot respond with a military intervention in an effort to preclude a full-scale military escalation. And in a telephone conversation, he urged President Putin to withdraw his forces from Crimea and to refrain military action elsewhere in the former Soviet Republic.
What are the options to respond? With President Putin having reached the ‘red lines’, the West, among them Washington and London, which heavily support Ukraine’s sovereignty, may consider economic steps. Boykotting the G8 summit in Sochi this June could be one option, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry. London and Ottawa meanwhile joined Washington in pulling out of a round of preparatory talks due to be held in the coming days to pave the way for the summit in Sochi. Talking about ‘red lines’ would not be sufficient to end the crisis.