Russia President Vladimir Putin in Red Square, Moscow, Russia with St. Basil’s in the background. Reuters
As the world watched apocalyptic scenes unfold in Kiev over the last few weeks, followed by the overthrow of the sitting pro-Russian government there, other seemingly less significant events slowly came to the surface in Moscow and in the Crimean peninsula that now look as if they could form one of the most powerful political events of the last 20 years.
Russia appears to be posturing to intervene in the Crimean peninsula after bringing additional military units to Russian cities near the Crimea and increasing their presence in Sevastopol, a move that could potentially split Ukraine in two.
“No way would Russia agree to what is going on right now, because they will not accept that Ukraine is a separate nation,” said Andriy Danylenko, a New York-based Ukrainian professor at Pace University. “They still think in terms of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire, so they cannot accept this revolution, so they will be doing everything possible, legally or otherwise, to ensure that the protesters are not successful in stopping the imperial culture that exists in the Ukraine.”
However, Russian military units might be mobilizing in the region simply to evacuate Russian citizens from the Crimea in the event that fighting spreads to other parts of the region.
The International Business Times reported on Monday that Russian ships and special forces units have mobilized on the Black Sea, and airborne units have landed in Anapa, the nearest Russian city to the Crimea. Mass protests have gripped the region in recent days, and plans to give citizens in the Crimea Russian passports all seem to be designed to loosen Kiev’s grip on the region. Russia has used a similar passport move in the past when it invaded South-Ossetia, justifying the full scale invasion by claiming it needed to “defend its new citizens from attack.”
In response, the U.S. Government warned Russia to keep its troops out of the Crimea, a warning that went largely unreported. This plea, designed to stop instability and conflict in the region, was always going to be in vain: Russia already has 26,000 troops inside Russia’s Crimean-based Sevastapol Naval base, and, in what appears to be a statement of intent, more troops have mobilized to join them. “Troops are already being stationed in some streets in Sevastopol,” says Danylenko, conceding that he is unclear in what capacity.
And just when it seemed the plot could not thicken any further, a Russian flag was raised at Sevastopol’s City Hall as the Kiev-appointed mayor, Vladimir Yatsuba, was booed and jeered after saying that the Crimea was part of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, he was replaced overnight on Monday by Russian citizen Aleksei Chaliy.
So far, Ukraine’s military has refused to get involved in the Kiev troubles, and it’s yet to be seen if they will mobilize to ward off the Russian military on the Crimean coast, or if NATO will take the issue to the negotiating table. However, what has been reported is that the Police Chief in Sevastopol has severed ties with Kiev and will not ask his officers to carry out orders to arrest former-president Viktor Yanukovych, who has allegedly taken refuge inside the Russian-run Navy yard in Sevastopol. In addition, check points have been established coming into the region to stop the arrival of extremists, according to local media reports.