Russian pressure on the new Ukraine grows, as armed men are reported to have taken over a strategic airport. Yesterday armed men seized control of Simferopol airport in the Crimea, a region of the Ukraine that has a long history of Russian military presence, but no-one yet seems to know who they are. Are they Ukrainians of Russian descent, or are they actually Russians?
Western analysts who have looked at the available footage of the men, suggest these are Russians. The argument for this is based on the fact that all the equipment the men have is the same, and high quality, which is unlikely for a people’s militia, they are also highly disciplined. It makes it possible that these are unmarked Russian soldiers from units created to carry out “dirty” wars. By using unmarked, but professional, soldiers who appear to represent either one ethnic group or other involved in a conflict, the Kremlin could easily manipulate ethnic tensions in various parts of Russia with such units. Indeed, the tone of voice from the Kremlin is very close to that which occurred before the invasion of Georgia and the effective annexation of parts of that country in 2008.
Russia seems to increasingly rely on criminally corrupt regimes in satellite countries, similar to the Ukraine government that just fell, to maintain social, economic, and political control. This policy continues in places such as Belarus, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.
Another tactic to grow Russian pressure on the new Ukraine is to hold huge military exercises along the borders of the country. A set of acts that western observers consider to be a predictable strategy of intimidation and attempts to manipulate the new, and likely relatively unprepared Ukrainian government.
The new Ukrainian government has a lot on its plate, with the revolution, elections that are coming up, and the fact that the country is rapidly heading towards bankruptcy. The outcome of loan negotiations with western governments will likely be key, and it is likely the Russians will be invited to be part of an economic solution for Ukraine for strategic reasons. Militarily, Russia is highly concerned that the Ukraine will move towards NATO, or even cancel the agreements that allows Russia to have its black sea fleet in the Crimea. These agreements were signed in 2010 by the former ousted Ukrainian president.
In the US the Secretary of State, John Kerry, has repeatedly contacted his Russian counterpart to make it clear that any territorial invasion of the Ukraine would be unacceptable. However, the presence of these possibly unmarked Russian soldiers at Crimea’s airports, is likely a violation of that policy. The US government has been very clear to the Russians that every act they have carried out in recent days has been monitored and analysed. However, Secretary Kerry publicly acknowledged Russia’s pledge to aid the Ukraine economically.
Both the Canadian and German governments have also joined in with the calls for the protection of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. With Canadian officials travelling to Kiev to meet with the new government there.
In the meantime the former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych was flown to a press conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don surrounded by Russian fighter jets, where he attacked the new Ukrainian government for his ouster. However, speaking from Russia, surrounded by the Russian military will likely be interpreted by the majority of Ukrainians as a simple unmasking of who he really is. Indeed as Russian pressure on the Ukraine grows, it is unlikely Yanukovych will be part of it.
By Andrew Willig