Because of threats to ethnic Russians and the need to protect its naval personnel, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked and received permission from the Russian parliament to intervene in
the Sudetenland Ukraine. The vote in the upper chamber was the final step in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated series of events that will give Putin broad latitude in dealing with Czechoslovakia/Poland Ukraine.
As justification, the Washington Post is reporting that the Russian government is claiming that “unidentified gunmen directed from Kiev” had
taken over a German radio station tried to take over the Crimean Interior Ministry headquarters overnight.
The move comes after
pro-German Poles the pro-Russian regional prime minister in Crimea had requested help from Russia to keep the peace.
Meanwhile, in Kiev, the new Ukraine government made it clear they would not fight to keep Crimea. But what about other provinces in the east and south with pro-Russian majorities?
Putin may have designs on them too.
“As a result of this treacherous provocation there were casualties,” the ministry said in a statement. “With decisive action, the attempt by vigilante groups to seize the Interior Ministry building was averted. This confirms the desire of prominent political circles in Kiev to destabilize the peninsula. We encourage those who give such orders from Kiev to show restraint. We believe it is irresponsible to continue whipping up the already tense situation in the Crimea.”
That account was disputed in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital. Igor Aveytskiy, who was named by the Kiev government to serve as chief of Crimea’s national police, said in an interview that “all was peaceful” at the building overnight.
The story line was different in Moscow.
There, a council of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, asked Putin to intervene.
“The deputies are calling on the president to take measures to stabilize the situation in Crimea,” Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin said, “and use all resources available to protect the Crimean population from lawlessness and violence.”
Next came Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of the upper house, the Federation Council.
“Perhaps in this situation we could grant the Crimean government’s request,” she said, “and send a limited contingent there to provide security for the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens living in Crimea.”
Then Putin made his request, and 30 minutes later a Federation Council committee approved it.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who helped negotiate a 1994 memorandum on Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, and tweeted Saturday that there is “no doubt in my mind that Russia is violating its commitments.” He also called the Russian move a violation of a 1997 treaty between Ukraine and Russia.
According to Josh Rogin writing in the Daily Beast, technically, those mysterious armed men occupying the airports and parliament building aren’t Russian troops. They’re military contractors who perform security duties for the Russian government:
Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region.
The new Ukrainian government in Kiev has accused Moscow of “an armed invasion and occupation” in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, where well-armed and well-organized troops with no markings or identification have taken control of the airports. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone Friday that no Russian military or marines have been deployed outside of the base of the Black Sea Fleet, which is anchored nearby, officials in both governments said.
Lavrov was technically telling the truth, but the troops are being directed by the Russian government. Although not confirmed, informed sources in Moscow are telling their American interlocutors that the troops belong to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana, the private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea. Other diplomatic sources said that the troops at the airport were paramilitary troops but not specifically belonging to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana.
Now Putin will send in the real thing — Russian ground troops.