Crimea becomes the hot spot of Russia-Ukraine tensions


The United States told Russia to demonstrate that it was sincere about its promise not to intervene in Ukraine as armed men stormed the regional parliament in Crimea and hours later, in the morning of 28 February, others seized the airport in a mainly ethnic Russian region. 

Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new leadership in Kyiv since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend.

The region also provides a base for the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet. Kyiv's new rulers said that any movement by Russian forces beyond the base's territory would be tantamount to aggression.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had assured him by telephone that Moscow would not intervene militarily in its neighbour.

"We believe that everybody now needs to take a step back and avoid any kind of provocations," Kerry said at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"We want to see in the next days ahead that the choices Russia makes conform to this affirmation we received today."

The United States pledged its support for the new government in a call on Thursday by Vice-President Joe Biden to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk.

European perspective

The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, is expected in Kyiv on Monday (3 March). Yesterday, the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, said that his country was aiming at signing its Association Agreement (AA) with the EU on the occasion of the next EU summit, on 20-21 March.

Also yesterday, the European Parliament passed a resolution, which said that Ukraine was a country entitled to apply for EU membership, provided it adhered to democracy, fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights, and ensured the rule of law. 

The AA stops short of mentioning an EU membership perspective [see Parliament resolution here, page 144-150, relevant article N. 24].

Yanukovich, who fled Kyiv after scores of demonstrators were killed last week, was expected to hold a news conference in Russia today (28 February). He declared that he was still Ukraine's president, but had lost support even in regions where the ethnic Ukrainian population mainly speaks Russian, as he does.

Crimea, which was administered as part of Russia within the Soviet Union until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, is a more tendentious question. Separatism there has often flared up at times of tension between Moscow and Kyiv.

Russian flag 

A group of armed men in military uniforms seized the main regional airport in Simferopol, Crimea, Interfax news agency reported early on Friday. According to the news website Zerkalo Nedeli, the armed men ended the occupation and left the airport early this morning (28 February).

A day before, unidentified gunmen seized the Crimean parliament and raised a Russian flag. The gunmen issued no demands and police hardly seemed to treat the event as a major security incident.

Instead, they casually guarded the building while hundreds of pro-Russian demonstrators assembled, including elderly people who danced cheerfully to recordings of Soviet martial music.

The regional parliament even managed to hold a session inside the building on Thursday despite the siege, where it voted to stage a referendum on "sovereignty" for Crimea.

By the early hours of Friday, police guarding the building would not say what had happened to the gunmen or whether they were even still there. Russia's flag still flew from its roof and lights were on in the windows of its top floor.

Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine's acting president, warned Russia not to move personnel beyond areas permitted by treaty for those using its naval base. "Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory will be seen by us as military aggression," he said.

Russia has repeatedly declared it will defend the interests of its citizens in Ukraine, and on Wednesday announced war games near the border involving 150,000 troops on high alert. Kerry said Lavrov told him the war games were pre-planned.

Although Moscow says it will not intervene by force, its rhetoric since the removal of its ally Yanukovich has echoed the run-up to its invasion of Georgia in 2008, when it sent its troops to protect two self-declared independent regions and then recognised them as independent states.

Witness accounts suggest those who captured the Crimean parliament building in the early hours of Thursday were pro-Russian gunmen of some kind.

"We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol ... we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window," Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters.

"I asked them what they wanted, and they said 'To make our own decisions, not to have Kyiv telling us what to do'."

Ukraine's new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said the attackers had automatic weapons and machine guns.

The regional prime minister said on Thursday he had spoken to the people by telephone, but they had not made any demands or said why they were there. They had promised to call him back but had not done so, he said.

With the siege apparently still under way, the regional parliament met in another part of the building and voted to hold its referendum on 25 May, the day Ukraine plans to elect a new president to replace Yanukovich. The measure, if passed, would declare Crimea sovereign, with its relationship to the rest of Ukraine governed by treaty.

The pro-Russian crowd outside cheered the news.

"In three months we will have a chance to choose our future," said Yuri Lukashev, 58, a carpenter standing in a group of other ethnic Russian men outside the building late at night. "We're celebrating our victory. It's a chance for peace in Crimea, guaranteed by Russia."

However, elsewhere there was some anger at the invasion of the regional parliament and the flying of the Russian flag.

Alexander Vostruyev, 60, in a leather cap and white beard, said: "It's disgrace that the flag of a foreign country is flying on our parliament ... It's like a man coming home to find his wife in bed with another man." 

  • 1 March: Catherine Ashton arrives in Kyiev;
  • 20-21 March: EU summit to be held in Brussels, at which Ukraine expects that its Association Agreement be signed;
  • 25 May: Presidential elections to be held in Ukraine, and independence of Crimea referendum to be held in this Ukrainian region.
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United Alliance's picture

And this because UKR is already splitted !!!

So come on to facts !

Now Ukraine is E.U. --> 29ht state

Crimea belongs and has to be in the federal Russia !

Clear and simple and everybody is happy!

They've all what they want!

Dave Thomas's picture

Ukrainian TV stations are showing Russian military planes and helicopters arriving in Crimea from across the Kerch Strait and Russian military transport vehicles moving around Crimea. Troops from the Black Sea Fleet have also blocked the roads into Balaclava. Furthermore, it has been confirmed by employees of Sevastopol's Belbec Airport that the "unknown military" people occupying the airport (as well as the Crimean parliament and other places) were wearing Russian military insignia underneath their camouflage coats. These people are obviously Russian military soldiers which means that Ukraine has illegally invaded Ukraine.

It is time for the West to act! Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the USA, Britain and Russia. According to this agreement, these three countries are obliged to guarantee the independence, security and territorial integrity of Ukraine. As Russia has obviously broken this agreement by invading Ukraine and occupying its land, it is imperative that the USA and Britain keep their side of the agreement and come to the aid of Ukraine. If this is not done, not only does Ukraine have the right to once again arm itself with nuclear weapons (Ukraine still has the largest missile factory in the world as well as the technological means and know-how to easily do this, only their bankrupt economy can stop them from doing this at this time), other countries around the world like Iran, will never ever believe Western and Russian security guarantees and will thus seek to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Furthermore, although Ukraine may not have the financial means to arm itself with nuclear weapons at this time, the sale of such technology to a third country (like Iran) in exchange for financing of a Ukrainian nuclear force will be their moral right and duty.

Gerry's picture

No, there will be no such action. Crimea is an independent republic and there is no western nation who will put troops on the ground there.

an european's picture

@Dave Thomas
If the USA or Britain comes to the aid of Ukraine?!!
Are you kidding me? For what interests then ?
Already people fought and died to be part as well for trading in the E.U. and NOT for Britain or USA!They want to live in a western kind of style like the (EU/US). !

Now: " to this agreement, these three countries are obliged to guarantee the independence"
Ukraine's independence is already defeated since the economy is already destroyed and deeply splitted!
Either joining the left or the right side of the globe and majority choices the left one !
We now now Crimea is Russia in which Putin can be proud of!

I think Mr. Vladimir Putin don't want UKR to be an E.U. trade Business and therefore Russia insidious is preparing the next tactical plan to ovoid this !

The next issue is: that Janukovic (apparently Putin masters of Russia is already deeply involved) spoke today that he still is the legitimate PM of Ukraine and will try to (re-)take UKR under his control!Seems Janukevic got help from this side-car!

John Kerry can believe it or not! Seems the "Russian Flag or fleet moves beyond allowed "control points" if not then it's only a matter of time !

As this man Alexander Vostruyev, 60 said : "It's like a man coming home to find his wife in bed with another man"
In reality he tries to say: the wife (Crimea) has been forced to sleep with him( Russian (Flagging)) ) because she is defenseless!!
What i can say is that maybe Moscow will not intervene by force but by surprise which basically can be considered as the same shame!
So the European Union whatever it already costs to Ukrainians should help to "westernize" & help rebuilding the economy interest of the people and not by Vladi's colleage who nuked the will of people and surely would still to continue dropdown further the economy until a real slave communism achieved!
So i think the E.U. has to show balls doing it right rise the voice in not let undermining defenseless by whatever be-heavy-ior influence !

Good thing now to increasingly rise the euro-fighters production !
So a lot of works for BAE Systems, Airbus Group...

Something different as well more interesting as this sad topic:
England has the most of euro-jets !
So i think England still lacks the most of euro-currencies ;-)