Telephone hubs in Crimea have been blocked, Ukraine's Channel 5 TV reports. An official from the company that owns the Ukrainian telecom monopoly Ukrtelekom is also reported to have told Ukrainska Pravda the firm is unable to get in touch with its Crimean branch.
Ukraine International Airline, Ukraine's biggest airline, says that airspace over the Crimea region had been closed after its main airport was taken over by armed men, Interfax reported. It says that no flights from Kiev are being allowed to Simferopol international airport.
At least five Russian Il-76 planes have landed at a military airport in Gvardiysky, near Simferopol, Ukrainska Pravda internet newspaper reports citing eyewitnesses. Reports also say a column of Russian armoured personnel carriers is heading towards Simferopol.
I read that there had been no confirmation about who those armed men are. Some claim they are Russian soldiers, although I think NYT quoted Russian military as saying they hadn't given any orders. Whatever is happening, it's a very provocative move.
It could be the Kremlin trying to show its strength in the face of a new, western-oriented gov't in Kyiv. It could also be a prelude to a territorial grab. Hard to say. Crimea was part of Russia until the 1950s, plus it's hugely important militarily for Moscow. It didn't much matter where the border fell during Soviet times, but with a government in Ukraine that won't be as easily manipulated, Russia might try to take its old land back.
Crimea is also a huge source of tourist money for Ukraine, since it has (probably) the nicest beaches in the whole former Soviet Union. People from all over the region go there in the spring and summer for their vacations. That's probably more than you wanted to hear, but the bottom line is that it's really hard to tell exactly what Russia is up to. Putin's Eurasian Union dreams are now effectively dead, and I suspect he won't take that lying down.
Collison also says there are reports of Russian officials handing out passports to just about anybody who claims Russian heritage—the more Russians living there, the stronger Russia's claims to the territory—and to former members of the Berkut riot police, who were killing demonstrators on the streets of Kiev.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country seems to be trying to stitch itself back together again. Earlier this week, Collison wrote:
Yesterday was national speak a different language day, so radio DJs and city officials in the western city of Lviv tried out some Russian, while officials in Donetsk gave it a go in Ukrainian.
Ukrainian is mostly spoken in the west, with a slight majority of people in the center of the country also speaking it as a native language. Russian is mainly spoken in the east and south. Here in Kyiv, I would say it's about 50/50, with Russian more of a business language, while Ukrainian is used for government functions. On the street, it's a tossup.
The goal is to tone down the rhetoric and try to show that nobody is going to be punished based on linguistic/ethnic backgrounds. We'll see if it works.
Reuters reports that Putin he has been warning EU officials that there "must be no further escalation of violence" while at the same time Russian (or pro-Russian) forces are making a concerted effort to bring more guns and tension into the picture.
Reformers try speak-a-different-language-day and pro-Kremlin forces show up with machine guns.
Two big questions at the moment: Can anyone stop Putin from riding roughshod over this situation?
And will he try to engineer a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident to justify sending in the troops to "stabilize" the situation?
Dan pointed me to this post on Towleroad arguing that Ukrainian partition might be the most sensible way out of the situation:
In 1954, Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev 'gave' Crimea to the Ukrainian people. Khrushchev, who was a native Russian, rose to power through the Ukrainian Communist Party. Some say it was an act of madness created in a drunken stupor and others consider it a brilliant move by the Russian leader...
The solution is simple. Let the European section continue as the Ukraine and allow the Russian section to vote on their future either as Russians or a new nation. Finally, return Crimea to the Russians.
The solution is simple—as long as you aren't a resident of Crimea who doesn't want to live in Putin's regime. Partitions have a way of not going very well and the idea of rewarding Putin for trying to bully 2 million people into his embrace is awful to contemplate. (Would the world community come to the rescue of the Tatars, Ukrainians, and Russian-speaking people who don't want to live in Russia?)
I asked Collison if the idea of partition was considered with any seriousness by moderates in Ukraine. "None that I've met or read about," he responded. "For sure, there is an anti-Russian language attitude among some nationalists in the west, but everyone I've talked to here wants to see Ukraine keep its current boundaries."