Russia Prepares for Occupation After Winning Control of Crimea

The cumulative effect of the past two days of activity is complete. The Crimean peninsula is now under Russian control.

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Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin authorized the use of Russian troops in Ukraine in defiance of American and international warnings against Russia intervention in Ukraine. By the end of the day, unmarked Russian forces and pro-Russian Ukrainians took control of large parts of Crimea, igniting an international crisis. Here are today's major developments so far:

  • This morning, Ukraine's acting government mobilized the military to meet what Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk called a "declaration of war" by Russia.
  • "Hundreds of gunmen" surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, creating a standoff between the two country's troops. Two bases and a number of installations were encircled by Russian troops, who demanded that Ukrainian troops give up their weapons. 
  • From NATO to France to Germany to the Czech Republic, the condemnations of Russia's actions poured in along with threats of isolation and demands for a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. 
  • Secretary of State John Kerry made the rounds on the Sunday morning shows and mentioned visa bans, asset freezes, trade isolation, and investment changes as possible options for sanctions against Russia. He will visit Kiev tomorrow night.
  • A senior Obama administration official told reporters that Crimea is now under Russian control and that they are preparing for an occupation of the peninsula. 

Below is our live-blog of today's events, which we'll continue updating throughout the day.


5:15 p.m.: According to a senior Obama administration official, Russia now has control of Crimea and seems to be planning on an occupation of the peninsula:

“Russian forces now have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula, some 6,000-plus airborne and naval forces, with considerable materiel. There is no question that they are in an occupation position in Crimea, that they are flying in reinforcements, and they are settling in.” 

4:37 p.m.: Secretary of State John Kerry will decamp for Kiev tomorrow. British Foreign Minister William Hague is already there.

4:25 p.m.: Ukraine supporters gather in Times Square:

3:54 p.m.: The caption to this amazing picture from the United Nations Security Council meeting yesterday is "No comments."

3:17 p.m.: In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today, Russian Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the "extraordinary situation" caused by the threat of ultranationalists to justify Russia's "fitting" response in Ukraine.

2:04 p.m.: Just yesterday, Denis Berezovsky was named head of the Ukrainian navy by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov. One day later, he was fired after he reportedly swore allegiance to the leadership of the Crimean separatists on television. The stated reason for his dismissal: “Inability to lead troops in extreme conditions.” That's certainly one way to put it.

1:15 p.m.: As American responses are being discussed and formulated, Republican lawmakers had some choice words from President Obama on the Sunday morning shows. On CNN's "State of the Union" this morning, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the United States has a "weak, indecisive president that invited aggression." He chided Obama for "trying to threaten thugs and dictators" on television and added:

"It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll, including mine."

On "Fox News Sunday," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers chimed in saying that “Putin is playing chess and we are playing marbles.”

These sentiments were echoed by Ali Hamzin, the foreign minister Crimean Tatar community, who called Obama's response "pathetic."

“The Sixth Fleet should be here. We should see it. Today, only the U.S. can preserve the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.”

12:31 p.m.: An impressive scene from a pro-Ukraine rally in Dnipropetrovsk, the country's fourth-largest city. Listen to them sing "Shche ne vmerla Ukraina," Ukraine's national anthem, which translates to "Ukraine Has Not Yet Died."

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was dramatically released from prison just last week, got her start in politics in Dnipropetrovsk.

Looking on the map, the city is in between Crimea and Kharkiv, the town on the Russian border, which was the site of a violent pro-Russian protest yesterday.

12:11 p.m.: As focus squares on Crimea, there is some important pushback against the characterization of the region as a monolithic, pro-Russian entity.

That isn't to say it is broadly pro-Ukraine either, but rather a place swelling with different ethnic groups. As it was pointed out earlier, some 58 percent of the two million inhabitants of Crimea consider themselves Russian. That's a huge number, but with the prospects of a Crimean mini-state in mind, the population is still one-quarter Ukrainian as well as 12 percent Tatar, a group that has surged since Ukrainian independence in the 1990s.

Some 300,000 have returned from exile and their numbers are growing, with continued migration and birth rates higher than either Russians or Ukrainians. They strongly oppose any separatism, and they will not go peacefully into a Russian-controlled, authoritarian “Yanukistan” along the lines of Transdnistria. Not only are they extremely well organized, they are Muslims with friends. Representatives from Russia’s Tatarstan region are already supporting them. Turkey, which controlled the Crimea for much longer than Russia ever did and has close ties with the Crimean Tatars, is watching. So are Chechen rebels.

10:57 a.m.: Demonstrations continue to take place across Ukraine and in Russia.

From the AP, reports of "pro-invasion" rallies taking place in Moscow:

At least 10,000 people bearing Russian flags marched freely through Moscow on Sunday, while dozens of people demonstrating on Red Square against an invasion of Ukraine were quickly detained by Russian riot police. 

Back in Kiev, a completely different protest:

10:33 a.m.: If you only read Russia Today's Twitter feed today, here's what you would know about what's going in Ukraine:

Everyone in Simferopol is having a perfect Sunday thanks to the "self-defence forces." Every Ukrainian soldier in Crimea has defected to the Russian side. 675,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia because of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The U.S. military has seized documents captured by looters in Kiev last week.

9:52 a.m.: Secretary of State John Kerry is making the rounds on the Sunday shows this morning, outlining various American responses.

Original post:

A naval base on the outskirts of Crimean capital Simferopol has become the site of a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

The phrase "extraordinary standoff" seems to be coming to mind:

Guardian correspondent Shaun Walker added some context:

It’s a Ukrainian base. There are Russian troops everywhere, lining the hills and roads towards it. There are at least 100 of them standing in twos and several military vehicles. The Ukrainians are inside. They have driven a tank up to the gates and there are 15 of them lined up by the gates.

There was a negotiation and the Russians have agreed they’re not going to enter the base for now and the Ukrainians have said they’re not going to give up."

Meanwhile, as Kiev denies reports that its soldiers are defecting, the Ukrainian interior minister alleges that Russian emissaries have been offering Ukrainian officers Russian citizenship.

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