Defying U.S., Russia Takes Control of Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin shrugged at American warnings as he asked the upper house of the Russian parliament to grant permission for the use of troops in Ukraine.

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The crisis in Ukraine continued to intensify today. Here were the day's major developments:

  • Ukraine's acting government has mobilized the military to meet what Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk calls a "declaration of war" by Russia. While not shot have been fired yet, "hundreds of gunmen" have surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, creating a standoff between the two country's troops.
  • Defying President Obama's warnings against intervention yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Senate authorized the use of troops in Ukraine.
  • Sergei Aksyonov, the prime minister of the pro-Russian Crimean region, asked Russia for assistance and declared the region "the autonomous republic of Crimea."
  •  Violent pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in eastern Ukrainian and Crimean cities. Several Russian flags were lifted above government buildings.
  • Unmarked Russian forces blocked roads and border posts in Crimea, surrounding bases and closing two airports. According to the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations, there are roughly 15,000 Russian troops in Crimea now.
  • The United Nations Security Council convened an emergency session on the Ukraine crisis.
  • President Obama and President Putin spoke on the phone for 90 minutes. Putin asserted his right to defend Russian people and interests in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Obama warned Putin of international isolation if he doesn't withdraw.

Below is our live-blog of today's events. 


It looks like Secretary of State John Kerry will be making the rounds tomorrow:

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And here is the White House readout of the Obama-Putin phone call. In it, President Obama called President Putin's actions illegal on four different counts.

Obama called on Russia to withdraw, said he would suspend the G-8, and warned "that continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community."

Here are the first few paragraphs:

President Obama spoke for 90 minutes this afternoon with President Putin of Russia about the situation in Ukraine. President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and which is inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act. The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory. 

The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine. We have consistently said that we recognize Russia’s deep historic and cultural ties to Ukraine and the need to protect the rights of ethnic Russian and minority populations within Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so. 

President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a member of both organizations, Russia would be able to participate. President Obama urged an immediate effort to initiate a dialogue between Russia and the Ukrainian government, with international facilitation, as appropriate. The United States is prepared to participate." 

You can read the whole thing here:

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama spoke for 90 minutes on the phone earlier today. Here's a Kremlin summary of what the two men discussed:

In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia’s armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kiev.

The Russian President stressed the existence of real threats to the lives and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in the case of further spread of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population."

The line remains that Russian lives and interests are endangered in Ukraine by forces colluding with the new government in Kiev. The White House has yet to publish its readout of the phone call.

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The meeting has concluded. De-escalation was the theme of the day. American Ambassador Samantha Power had some tough words for Russia and called for the deployment of international observers to Crimea.

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You can watch the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Ukraine live now:

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The United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on Ukraine was initially delayed (characteristically enough) by a procedural dispute on the format of the meeting. As one might expect, Russia wanted a private meeting and the rest of the Security Council wanted a public one. It's being reported that Russia caved and the meeting will be open. This means that dignitaries like the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN will be able to attend. Expectations remain low.

Here's a great piece looking at all the times that Russian leaders have criticized other countries for authorizing force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council.

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As high-level meetings take place in the White House, the options for a U.S. response to today's activity are being debated. House Republicans, who want tough sanctions on Russia, are urging action along with others.

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The cumulative upshot of today's dramatic events in Ukraine appear to mean one thing. Despite Vladimir Putin's professed indecision over whether he will deploy troops in Ukraine, large parts of Crimea have been seized by unmarked troops.

In Crimea, in the south, scores of heavily armed men fanned out across the center of the regional capital, Simferopol. They wore green camouflage uniforms with no identifying insignia, but they spoke Russian and were clearly part of a Russian military mobilization. In Balaklava, a long column of military vehicles blocking the road to a border post bore Russian plates.

As for what's next, as we noted below, a number of protests by pro-Russian demonstrators, some marked by violence, have taken place in eastern Ukrainian cities. In Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, a Russian flag was raised over a government building earlier today.

Writing in the New Republic, Julia Ioffe is not optimistic about either NATO or American chances at stopping Putin in his tracks. She also explains why eastern Ukraine is Russia's next target.

Because pessimism conquers all, don't bet that Putin is going to stop once he wrests Crimea from Kiev's orbit. Eastern, Russian-speaking Ukraine—and all its heavy industry—is looking pretty good right now."

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The emerging question is how Russia's movements and intentions vis-à-vis Ukraine and Crimea might play out in terms of a NATO response. The Lithuanian foreign minister has invoked Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, which calls for consultations if "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened."

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According to the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin has yet to decide if he will actually use Russian troops in Ukraine, which the upper house of the Russian parliament authorized him to do earlier today. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added:

"After the decision by the Federation Council, the president has received the full arsenal of means needed to resolve the situation, in terms of using (military) forces and in terms of taking decisions about (withdrawing) the head of our diplomatic mission in the United States."

Of course, the only problem here is that Russian forces are already at work in Ukraine.

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Vladimir Putin biographer Masha Gessen has some thoughts on Putin, the new Crimean crisis, and Ukraine. In an opinion piece titled "Most Russians believe the Crimea is theirs — Putin has acted on his belief," Gessen sums up what this all may mean:

"It signals a loss of innocence: no longer will Russians be able to think that Putin merely feels nostalgic for the USSR. It also signals ever greater polarisation of Russian society: in addition to all the other lines along which Russians are divided and across which civilised dialogue is impossible, there is now the chasm between supporters and opponents of the planned annexation. It also means the political crackdown in Russia will intensify further."

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Some images from Kharkiv, the pro-Russian city in Ukraine's northeast and the country's second-biggest city, show the storming of a city administration building, the beating and shaming of pro-revolution protestors, and the raising of the Russian flag.

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The United Nations Security Council is reportedly meeting later to address the latest goings on in the new Crimean crisis. There was also another procedural development, which could have serious implications:

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The AP is now reporting that the Russian senate has approved Vladimir Putin's request to allow the use of military in Ukraine.

You can't spell unanimous without animus.

Original post:

The crisis in Ukraine continues to intensify today as the pro-Russian prime minister of the Crimean region tries to secure his power. Sergei Aksyonov, who was (sort of) appointed after gunmen took control over the regional parliament earlier this week, "declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region will answer only to his orders."

In a provocative rhetorical flourish, Aksyonov appealed to Russia for help, asking Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness" and referring to Crimea as "the autonomous republic of Crimea." Several miles west in Kiev, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov signed a decree today calling Aksyonov's appointment "illegal."

As we noted yesterday, armed groups seized control of two key airports in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which has an ethnically Russian majority. With reports of Russian forces on the ground there, President Obama delivered remarks yesterday from the White House, warning Russia that "there will be costs for any intervention in Ukraine."

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin shrugged at American warnings today as he asked the upper house of the Russian parliament to grant permission for the use of troops in Ukraine. The ploy is not without irony considering that (1) Putin hardly has to ask permission and (2) there are already multiple reports of involvement by the Russian military already. Putting the stakes beyond Crimea, Putin's request was vague:

Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev.

Read more of our coverage of the Ukraine crisis here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.