Has Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea?
Hardly a surprise, but whether this is a real invasion or something else, Russia is sending special forces, landing paratroopers and blockading roads and airports in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
In recent days the regional Crimean government has been sacked and replaced with a new and unelected government, including regional Prime Minister who holds only Russian citizenship.
If current events do signal an invasion it is likely that the Kremlin will use the excuse that the new Crimean government needed protection from so-called radicals coming down from Kyiv, but in the end the scenario will probably be a repeat of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the war with Georgia in 2008.
We should note that by treaty the Russian military presence in Crimea is limited to three helicopters in the air simultaneously without permission from Kyiv. The Kremlin refuses to acknowledge the new government and thus claims there is no one to ask permission during the crisis.
Access to the Simferopol and Sevastopol airports had been blocked after a group of Crimean Tatars battled Crimean self defense units yesterday.
Today new troops arrived and airport security officials in Sevastopol said that Crimean police did not know the identity of those who took control of the airport other than it was a group of fluent Russian speaking and heavily armed men who told airport security officials to go home and not return until asked.
Interfax News reported that the troops arrived at the airport in KAMAZ (Russian military vehicles) without license plates and no markings.
Civilian and commercial air traffic in and around Crimea has been curtailed. Aeroflot has announced the temporary suspension of service as have Ukrainian airlines.
Meanwhile in Moscow the Russian Duma (parliament) is reportedly working overtime on a bill to re-word the law allowing a territory to enter into the Russian Federation. Current Russian law stipulates that a territory must seek permission of both its current state and appeal to the Russian Federation. Only after the country in which the territory is located agrees to the transfer can Russia accept a new member of the Federation.
Sources say that the new bill being drafted would allow the President of Russia to receive a foreign territory, regardless of agreement from another country, if that territory has carried out a referendum of the territory’s citizens or if its council of ministers has voted on the request to Russia. Russia says this is necessary because there is currently no legitimate government in Ukraine.
Is Mr. Putin throwing Viktor Yanukovich under the bus? The two have never gotten along that well anyway and given the language of the new bill being drafted in parliament we’d expect Mr Putin to continue to hold ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich at a distance until Crimea is securely in Russian hands. Yanukovich has repeatedly voiced his refusal to allow Crimea to leave the Ukrainian state.
Local media are reporting that phone and internet connections between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine has been cut. Crimean communications utility Ukrtelecom is reportedly under the control of either the new pro-Russian government or Russian special forces.
Citizens of the area were to have voted in March on removal of Lenin statues which are objected to by ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars. However the new pro-Russian government has postponed that poll with no date set for voting.
The annual rent that Russia currently pays Ukraine for the Black Sea naval base is $100 million dollars annually.