After a commando of armed men took parliament buildings in the Crimean city of Simferopol on Thursday, Ukraine now faces an invasion by several thousand Russian troops that were reported to be entering the Crimean region on Saturday.
In the aftermath of the regional parliament’s seizure of Simferopol, the invaders nominated the pro-Russian Sergei Aksyono as the new head of Crimea and put him in charge of the regional security forces.
The leader has called on Russia to restore “peace and calm” in Crimea, though disorders were largely caused by elements of the ethnic Russian majority of the population that were stirred up by the Kremlin’s announcement of military exercises over Ukraine.
On Saturday, Russian forces occupied the military airports of Kirovskoye and Bilbek, near the port of Sevastopol where the Russian Black Sea fleet is harbored.
According to Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchinov, 13 Russian planes with military personnel on board have landed at the airfields, leaving the Ukraine government facing what it believes is an invasion.
The unfolding events confirm that the epicenter of the Ukrainian revolution has now moved to the schism-ridden peninsula of Crimea, in the southeast of Ukraine, which is an area that is populated by 60 percent of ethnic Russians who are unhappy with the departure of former President Yanukovych from Kiev and would like to see Crimea returning to Russia.
Moscow’s sizeable action in the region is bringing more tension between Russia and the West. The unease is escalating after the fall of Yanukovych’s regime, which the Kremlin promptly blamed on the European Union´s alleged plan to bring Ukraine closer to its orbit.
On Friday, President Obama voiced his concern about the Russian invasion and warned that “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” although he did not go into details. On Saturday, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain also joined the choir, asking Russia to clarify the aim of its increasing military presence in Crimea.
Meanwhile, according to several reports, the leaders of the G-8 group of countries, whose upcoming summit is scheduled to be hosted in June in the Russian city of Sochi, are considering the possibility of boycotting the meeting as a sign of protest against Russia´s invasion of Crimea.
Some analysts, including Ukraine interim president Turchinov, have compared the situation in Crimea to the 2008 Russian conflict with Georgia, which led to the occupation by the Russian army of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after weeks of military buildup.
While a replica of the former scenario will largely depend on Ukraine´s reaction, things are moving fast in Crimea as the newly appointed government of Sergei Aksyono is planning to move up to the end of March a referendum to strengthen the region´s autonomy from Kiev, which would result in a de facto secession from Ukraine and create a destabilization of the country.
Moscow´s intervention in Crimea is a move that aims to provoke Kiev´s military reaction. The new government in Ukraine faces a hard situation, since a lack of response might provoke a destabilization on its southeastern border, while a military action against the Russian invasion might spark a dangerous international crisis in which neither Ukraine nor the West are interested.
By Stefano Salustri