Ahem, excuse me … armed pro-Russian “activists,” according to the BBC. Just hours after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, the Ukrainian naval base came under attack, and the chief of their navy is reportedly a prisoner of these “activists”:
Pro-Russian activists, some armed, have stormed the HQ of Ukraine’s navy in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Several Ukrainian servicemen have left, the Russia flag is flying and there are reports that Ukrainian navy chief Serhiy Hayduk has been detained.
Reuters offered a more realistic report, noting that the armed “activists” were actually Russian soldiers, accompanied by civilians that have organized themselves into “self-defense” units in support of Russian sovereignty over the peninsula. The Ukrainian military also took a more realistic position, retreating from the bases that they could not possibly relieve against the Russian forces:
Russian troops and unarmed men stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday and raised the Russian flag in a tense but peaceful takeover that signals Moscow’s intent to neutralize any armed opposition.
Russian soldiers, and so-called “self-defense” units of mainly unarmed volunteers who are supporting them across the Black Sea peninsula, moved in early in the morning and quickly took control.
Shortly after the incident, Ukraine’s acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in Kiev that the country’s forces would not withdraw from Crimea even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make it part of Russia.
But an hour later, Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothing, began walking out of the headquarters.
Thus far, no further reports of violence or gunfire have occurred since the initial clash resulted in the shooting death of a Ukrainian soldier. However, that kind of luck probably won’t continue. Kyiv refuses to recognize Crimean independence and its rapid annexation by Russia shortly afterward and won’t agree to withdraw its military from those bases. The new Crimean regime will not allow Kyiv’s envoys to land at the airport, let alone discuss a resolution to this standoff. This scene will likely repeat itself numerous times over the next few days, and it would be miraculous if gunfire didn’t erupt at some point and start a shooting war in Crimea.
Meanwhile, the West still has not settled on a response to Russia. UK Prime Minister David Cameron finally suggested kicking Russia out of the G-8 permanently, nearly three weeks after its initial incursions into Crimea:
British PM Cameron: Allies should discuss whether to expel Russia from G8 permanently if Moscow takes further steps on Ukraine – @Reuters
— Breaking News UK (@BreakingNewsUK) March 19, 2014
Congress has still stalled on helping the Ukrainians:
While lawmakers bicker over the details of legislation to aid Ukraine and punish Russia, events in Eastern Europe are moving quickly. Just this week, citizens in the disputed Crimean peninsula voted to leave Ukraine and were swiftly recognized by Russia. President Barack Obama and European leaders, meanwhile, instituted targeted sanctions on Russian officials and “cronies,” prompting Russia to consider retaliatory action against the West.
And what is Capitol Hill doing to respond to the deepening crisis? Not much, except continue a war of words with Russia and leave town for a weeklong recess without a bill to send to Obama’s desk. And there’s no sign that Congress will resolve its differences anytime soon — despite growing alarm about developments in Ukraine. …
The House has passed a bill that provides loan guarantees to Ukraine, legislation the Senate says falls short of helping U.S. allies and punishing Russia. But the Senate’s more comprehensive effort is running into its own obstacles.
The 32-page bill that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week faces steep resistance in the House. And a push to swiftly pass it in the Senate before recess triggered an ugly floor spat among Republicans.
The Senate proposal not only provides the loan assistance to the new government in Kiev, but calls for blocking assets and revoking visas of officials responsible for the crisis. It also includes reforms to the International Monetary Fund that would shift $63 billion from the IMF’s crisis account to its general fund, a provision that conservatives oppose.
Republicans have offered a trade to delay proposed IRS rules cracking down on the political activities for nonprofits in exchange for the IMF reform, but Democrats say they won’t go for it. The bill could be amended on the floor if both parties can agree on a list of alterations to consider, but IMF changes and the IRS rules delay likely won’t be a part of it.
Washington finally called Vladimir Putin a liar for his speech yesterday rationalizing the Crimean referendum and the annexation, but … it was the Washington Post, not Washington DC. Glenn Kessler gave Putin four Pinocchios for the speech. Good to see the West getting tough on Putin.
But will getting tough on Putin actually make much of a difference? Michael Totten offers a pessimistic view:
That’s not one, not two, but three times Russia has pulled this stunt since the end of the Cold War. Putin is doing it to Ukraine because it worked in Moldova and Georgia.
There is no exit plan. Russia is not going to pull out of these countries, nor will anyone force Russia out. It’s not worth a world war—not even close.
That’s where we are. Where to next? Well, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova could cede the scraps to Russia and join NATO as rump states, if NATO will have them. There’s not much else they can do. Because protesting and sanctions and diplomatic hand-wringing will have no affect whatsoever.
It’s a little late to reverse what has already transpired, but perhaps not too late to prevent Putin from trying this again. Sanctions could hit Putin in his weak spot — with the oligarchs who got rich from hooking their wagons to his star, and who might prefer not becoming poor again.