Update on Situation at 4:30 EST
BBC is reporting Ukrainian claim that Russia has demanded the surrender of all Ukrainian forces in Crimea “by dawn” (see my earlier post about such a demand with an 0300 GMT deadline). Also notes denial by Russian news agency Interfax. RT.com reports “Russian Defense Ministry Dismisses Ukraine Ultimatum Reports as ‘Nonsense’.”
According to RT.com the Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “unacceptable” threats with regard to Russian intervention in the Crimea, as well as cancellation of preparations for the G-8 meeting in June. The Foreign Ministry also called the revolutionaries who seized power in Kiev “anti-Semitic,” “extremist,” and “militant Russophobes.” RT headlines refer to them as “neo-Nazis”. The framing in terms from the Soviet Union’s epic struggle against the Axis invasion of 1941-1945 is interesting. Clearly an attempt to tap deep emotions still felt by many Russians about that war and victory.
Very ominously, BBC reports that “Russia’s UN envoy (Vitalii Churkin) has said ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has asked Russia to use military force in Ukraine.” Such a request from the man the Russian government still regards as the legitimate president of Ukraine could be a pretext for an full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government news agency UKR Inform reports that the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has information that a “provocation” is being planned for tonight in which Russians masquerading as Ukrainians will kill Russian troops, to provide a rationale for Russian military action against Ukraine. If this is true one would imagine it pertains only to Crimea, but who knows.
UKR Inform reports that anti-aircraft troops from the Air Defense Missile Regiment in Feodosia, Crimea are determined to resist Russian pressure to surrender and have raised the Ukrainian flag over their base and sung the Ukrainian national anthem. UKR Inform is also reporting heavy psychological pressure from Russian commanders on Ukrainian forces to surrender.
The UK’s Telegraph reports that ” a secret briefing document held by an individual walking into Downing Street has been photographed. It suggests the UK will oppose trade sanctions against Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.” If this is accurate it points to the underlying weakness of the EU’s position vis a vis Russian occupation of Crimea. No one really wants to impose serious sanctions on Russia — one suspects that within the EU, Russia’s takeover is quietly regarded as inevitable and reasonable. Angry rhetoric from the EU is empty without serious economic sanctions, and as I pointed out earlier, without EU sanctions, unilateral US sanctions mean little. The only measure Britain is considering, according to the document, is restricting visas for some Russians.