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Friday, February 28, 2014

Is Russia Invading Ukraine?

Posted by on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Reports from Ukraine's Crimean peninsula indicate that the Russian military—or some paramilitary force aligned with Russia—is making moves on the territory.

Russia has officially denied involvement, but photographs are circulating of masked, armed men in military uniform (without any identifying insignia) blocking and patrolling airports.

In some of the photographs, they are accompanied by pro-Russian groups whose members are wearing the Ribbon of St. George.

The BBC is posting live updates, most of which look ominous.

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.

As Chris Collison (who works for a TV station in Kiev) pointed out a few days ago, pro-Kremlin news outlets and political figures have been trying to cast the Ukraine protesters as fascists and extremists—the old "dissident = domestic terrorist" trick—and earlier this week Putin announced an extended military "exercise" at Ukraine's doorstep.

This morning, Collison writes:

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.

  • Chris Collison

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."

Still, some experts—like Alexander Motyl at Rutgers—are arguing that it might be for the best.


Comments (29) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Gazprom is foreclosing on Ukraine.
Posted by Occupy Kiev? ...lost in translation ...again. on February 28, 2014 at 11:13 AM · Report this
Look like it will be a de facto" land for peace" end game resolution and Russia is staking out their claim - which does have some historical basis. I hope diplomacy can work proactively here. I do wish Hillary was still Sec of State, but let's see what Kerry can do.
Posted by DawginExile on February 28, 2014 at 11:13 AM · Report this
Remember the good old days when you could enjoy the celebrations of the Olympics for 18 months before the egotistical tyrant of the host nation invaded their neighboring country...these kids sense of tradition.
Posted by Premature Invasion on February 28, 2014 at 11:25 AM · Report this
Russia has a big chunk of their navy in port in the Crimea. If they lose that infrastructure in place, they effectively lose control of the Black Sea.

They aren't going to let that happen.
Posted by palamedes on February 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
The first rule is: Putin Lies.

There is no second rule.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 28, 2014 at 11:38 AM · Report this
My guess is the paramilitary forces are an attempt to spark a firefight with actual police forces.

And then Putin can claim "oh those nazis are attacking my poor innocent Russians" and then he can launch a full force army invasion.

Kind of like Georgia on steroids.
Posted by GermanSausage on February 28, 2014 at 11:40 AM · Report this
I'm generally sympathetic to leftists who say the US spends too much on the military, but given recent events in Ukraine, perhaps now is not the time to retire the A-10 Warthog?
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 28, 2014 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 8
Putin will have another Chechnya on his bloody hands.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on February 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM · Report this
@7 - A-10s aren't sexy to certain factions, even though they are very effective at infantry support. And the Air Force NEVER wants to share airspace. (I suspect there are huge fights between the three military branches over which of their uniquely designed drones get to be used where, for instance,)

Those same folks hated the A-1 Skyraider and the various ground support versions of the OV-10.

Selfishness trumping needs.
Posted by palamedes on February 28, 2014 at 12:09 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 10
There are a ton of people in Crimea, especially minorities [Jews, Tatars (it's Tatars not Tartars for fucks sakes), ethnic Ukrainians and gays and lesbians] who do not want to be in Russia on any condition.

Anyone who says that dividing Ukraine is an "easy solution" has obviously never been there nor do they know what the hell they are talking about.
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 12:27 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 11
@7 Because we are about to go to war with Russia?

Seriously, you are just a troll now. You know nothing about Ukraine or foreign policy. STFU
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 12:32 PM · Report this
@11, That's republicans for you. They come up with the most ridiculous excuses to waste tax payer dollars.
Posted by GermanSausage on February 28, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Fnarf 13
To be fair, Brendan, some of the protesters ARE fascists and extremists. If you think what Russian extremists are doing to gay people in the street, you will not be soothed to hear that Svoboda, the very popular Ukrainian nationalist party, does exactly the same thing -- and is part of the Ukrainian government, as are other extremist groups. These parties are explicit about their Nazi ideology and symbols, and they make the amateur racists in the British National Party or even the cretins in the Greek "Golden Dawn" movement look like pikers. And they're very popular.

I'm not saying that Putin is right and the protests are fascist to their core, but there is a strong element mixed in there. Svoboda wants to revoke the citizenship of all Russians and Jews, for instance.
Posted by Fnarf on February 28, 2014 at 12:51 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 14
Best news outlets for what's happening in Ukraine and Russia:

Radio Svoboda, operated by Radio Free Europe, not affiliated with the far right political party of the same name:

Ukraine LiveBlog:…

Putin's Crackdown on Dissent in Russia LiveBlog:…

Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 12:51 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 15
@ 13

Yes there are far right elements involved in the opposition. But they are a small faction of it and the majority of the protesters are not far right. The EU will never work with a Ukraine that goes far right and opposes the rights of minorities.

Minorities are 1000 times better off in a Ukraine moving towards the EU and Europe than to a Ukraine moving towards Russia.

Putin and Russia is far more fascist these days than anybody else in Europe.

You should read:…
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Report this
If you just discovered that realpolitik sucked now is the time to reassess the instances of it that you favored and be consistent. Partition is a bad thing for Ukrainians and should be opposed but it shouldn't surprise anyone that it is now on the table given that our neocons would love to take western Ukraine away from Russian control and Russia will just not let go of the parts inhabited by ethnic Russians.
Posted by anon1256 on February 28, 2014 at 1:24 PM · Report this
"we can fully resolve this crisis peacefully and sanely"

We?! The problem with this kind of writing is that it assumes that everyone's opinion matters. "We" can't give Crimea back to Russia. "We" can't partition a country. "We" can't decide to let Western Ukraine vote on their future. "We" can't do any of that.
Posted by LukeJoe on February 28, 2014 at 1:34 PM · Report this
fletc3her 18
Let's drop McCain on the capitol and see if it solves anything.
Posted by fletc3her on February 28, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Fnarf 19
@15, that's a good article, but he's wrong that the far right is "less important than the far right in France, Austria, or the Netherlands". It's much more popular in Ukraine, much more extreme, and and has a larger stake in both the (elected) government and the opposition. And it's growing rapidly.

There are plenty of other points of view represented in the protests, of course, and the biggest leaders seem to be liberals like Klitschko. And yes, the extremism of Putin & Co. is unquestioned. That's my point; it's not cut-and-dried. There are not 100% good guys here.

It's also true that the deal offered by the EU, while backed with the liberal promise of Europe, means fiscal austerity of exactly the type that is failing to meet the needs of Western European states, while the deal offered by Russia means cheap gas -- absolutely essential to the Ukrainian economy. It seems obvious to us in our comfortable living rooms that the EU is the way to go -- but much less so if you're looking at starvation. Starry-eyed young people are not the only Ukrainians. The country is genuinely divided.

Don't get me wrong: as a Westerner and a believer in freedom and human rights I want a liberal Ukraine to prosper and Putin to shrivel and die. He's a genuine threat to the entire world, as we are seeing today (though we don't know his full motives in Crimea yet). But it's foolish to pretend that everything is peachy keen on the other side. Ukraine is facing an internal neo-Nazi threat more severe than other Western countries but one that other Western countries need to be paying close attention to.
Posted by Fnarf on February 28, 2014 at 1:43 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
Another good article:…

Basically, I'm always going to be cautious about any movement that has support from both George Clooney and Slavoj Zizek. Not as wary as I am of Putin, of course....

I agree with @17. We aren't going to do anything but watch in trepidation.
Posted by Fnarf on February 28, 2014 at 1:51 PM · Report this
@11 Maybe not like this . . .…

. . . but I don't think a low intensity conflict like what happened in Nicaragua and Afghanistan in the 1980s is out of the question. In any case we'll need a strong military to use as a threat if we're going to resolve the situation in the Ukraine peacefully.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM · Report this
@21 Are you nuts? We are not going to take any military action in the Ukraine. The most we'd ever do militarily would be to provide support to a NATO action.
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on February 28, 2014 at 2:07 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 23
@22 we are NATO


The EU and western Europe will never do business with a Ukraine that is far right. The fact is is that minorities in Ukraine (Tatars, Jews, gays and lesbians) do not want to have closer ties to Putin's Russia; they want to have closer ties to Europe.

When I was there this summer with my wife who speaks conversational Russian (and is Jewish) that is the sense that I got from speaking to folks on the ground, at least in Kiev, Odessa and Popovka (in Crimea). The lesbians that sold us beer from street kiosk next to our hostel would never be allowed to openly show affection for one another in Russia today.
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 2:27 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 24
@21 WTF!

Seriously? You say: a "low intensity conflict like what happened in Nicaragua and Afghanistan in the 1980s".

#1 We don't need a strong military to do what you are saying might be necessary. We need a few covert CIA advisers and lots of secret money.

#2 We already have a strong military, in fact one of the strongest on the planet. And our military is one of the best trained and best equipped in the world.

We are not going to get into a shooting war with Russia directly. We would destroy one other and nuclear weapons might eventually be used.

Maybe you work for a defense contractor? Your comments today suggest you do. If you want to keep the size of today's US military you need to raise taxes in order to pay for it.
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Latest and greatest....updated regularly.…

Posted by palamedes on February 28, 2014 at 2:57 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 26

I'm on Putin's side with this.

The idea of a bunch of people risking life and limb on the streets just to join the EU seems only possible in the warped and insular mind of a dyed-in-the-wool Lib, or someone who watches every NBC show 24 hours per day.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 28, 2014 at 3:53 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 27

You sir are a traitor and an enabler of totalitarianism. You obviously have never been to Eastern Europe nor have you read much about Eastern European history.

As somebody who has done a great deal of both, I can assure you that you know absolutely nothing about what you are talking about.

Someone such as yourself should just keep their mouth shut as opposed to showing yourself to be completely ignorant.

Read up a little about what happened to Ukraine under Stalin and get back to us.
Posted by passionate_jus on February 28, 2014 at 4:17 PM · Report this
@22 says: @21 Are you nuts?

Guess you haven't been commenting here much, huh?

Yeah, that would be a given.

Now, advance reports state that Russia's 7th Division, their Shock Troops division has entered and positioned at the usual srategic points.

That would mean the Russkies have effectively invaded.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 28, 2014 at 5:22 PM · Report this
@28 Yep Russia has invaded Crimea where their Ukrainian Gitmo is (as in major base not prison where they torture people thought they may do that too). So what? It is a completely sensible move to make, we'd do the same if Cube started to implode.

What happens next is a pause while the furniture gets arranged in the negotiating room. Ok blood will be spilled, such is the nature of these things, but a pause nonetheless.

Posted by Machiavelli was framed on February 28, 2014 at 8:33 PM · Report this

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