Crisis in Crimea - 7 March 2014
Mobilization increased again as talk among foreign leaders continued to stall. Turkey has added its name to the list of countries taking defensive measures against Russian aggression.
The ground swell of public protest has reached beyond Crimea as demonstrations were seen in Washington and Moscow. Clashes among demonstrators have become increasingly violent.
On a local level tensions flared as OSCE observers were turned away from Crimea's border with Ukraine. Farther south, an unmarked band of troops entered a Ukrainian military installment only to exit shortly thereafter.
- Commander of Ukrainian border guards, Serhiy Astakhov, indicated there are now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea, rather than previous estimates of 11,000. The number includes ground troops as well as troops stationed on the Black Sea. It also includes unmarked military personnel that Moscow claims are local defense forces.
- Reports indicate 3,500 Russian troops and 1,000 units of military hardware have mobilized for exercises. The exercises will take place in Kapustin Yar, 280 miles east of the Ukrainian border. Colonel Oleg Kochetkov said “it is the largest-ever exercise held by [Russian] air defense units of the Western military district.”
- A second Russian ship was scuttled (deliberately sunk) by Russian troops in a successful attempt to block Ukrainian ships inside their ports.
- USS Truxtun and crew of 300 arrived in the Black Sea. Six F-15 fighter jets arrived in Lithuania which brought American military numbers in the country to ten F-15s and 210 military personnel.
- The Turkish Air Force gathered six F-16 fighter jets after a Russian IL-20 surveillance plane flew parallel to Turkey’s Black Sea coast. This was the second instance in the last three days of a Russian plane flying along the coast.
Empty Negotiations; Aid Packages
- President Barak Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone early Friday morning. Regarding Russian speakers in Ukraine, Putin reiterated “Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” He reconfirmed the new regime in Ukraine made “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.” Putin continued denials that unmarked troops stationed in Crimea are Russian although their military vehicles have Russian number plates.
- Japan endorsed Western actions and positions.
- Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk stated Friday he is willing to speak with Russia as long as its military is withdrawn. He referred to people at the head of the crisis as “separatist and… traitors of the Ukrainian state.” He remained by his position that the upcoming Crimean vote “will not be recognized”.
- The Speaker of Russia’s upper house, Valentina Matviyenko, reaffirmed Russia's stance by stating “the Crimean parliament, as a legitimate authority has… the sovereign right of the people to determine their future.”
- Reaction to the previous day’s referendum announcement continued as Matviyenko stated that Russia would “support and welcome” Crimea and decisions made by Crimea’s officials. She stood firm in defiance to oncoming sanctions and said “None of the sanctions will be able to change our attitude.”
- At least two Ukrainian television channels have been blocked in Crimea.
- If results do not follow Thursday’s first sanctions then more will follow said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “Without very prompt results, there will be further measures against Russian officials and companies.”
- Today was the deadline for Ukraine to pay its energy bill for February’s gas supplies. Ukraine’s debt to Russian gas giant Gazprom is now $1.89 billion.
- The US House of Representatives approved a $1 billion loan package for Ukraine. It passed with a 385-23 vote and will next be voted on by the Senate. The package is designed to offset the reduction of energy subsidies as Ukraine is heavily reliant upon Russia for natural gas.
- Many pro-Ukrainian demonstrators stationed in Kiev’s Independence Square are willing to go to war. One demonstrator stated, “We are optimists. Crimea will stand with us and we will fight for it… If necessary, we will go with force. If you want peace, you must prepare for war.” (Reuters)
- In Crimea there is strong support for Russia among public demonstrators. In some eastern and southern regions of Ukraine pro-Russian populations are believed to be greater than 50%. It is feared these regions could soon follow Crimea's actions and vote to join the Russian Federation.
- In Moscow, 65,000 people attended a pro-Russian rally aimed at supporting the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea.
- A Ukrainian base in Sevastopol was entered by unmarked military personnel. Reports confirm that no shots were fired and no casualties were taken. However, initial reports suggest that stun grenades were used. During the clash Ukrainian forces retreated into a barracks where negotiations began. Later in the day, the unmarked troops left in peace. While negotiations were ongoing, at least one journalist at the scene was severely beaten and taken to a hospital.
- For the second time in as many days observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were blocked from entering Crimea by armed guards. The observers are followed by a pro-Ukrainian crowd. Reports are conflicting regarding the number of OSCE observers but the number is believed to be approximately 45. This number exceeds the originally planned number of 38.
The Russian Bear
Closing the Day
To external viewers the armed infiltration of the Ukrainian base cannot be seen as anything other than aggression. In the coming days an explanation could rise to dispute these claims, but as another day ends one may ascertain that Russia has begun to test its limits.
As expected, demonstrators from both sides continue to clash. While previous days have shown only verbal harassment, Friday brought physical acts of violence. Multiple instances of topless protesters show that simple harassment could soon become fond memory.
Bullets remain in every magazine but the loading into each firing chamber could be inching closer. Leadership, while undoubtedly losing sleep from constant negotiations, seem to have no control over the tactful feeling-out happening at ground level.