What a coincidence, eh? The order does not specifically mention Ukraine, but the message won’t be lost on the Ukrainians — or the Europeans:
President Vladimir Putin has reportedly ordered an immediate test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia.
Russia’s state news agencies are quoting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that Putin ordered the test at 2 p.m. Moscow time on Wednesday.
There’s nothing like a mobilization to calm things down, you know. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but Ukrainians can be forgiven for skepticism. This follows some more soothing messages coming from Moscow and the Putin government, specifically foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who declared that Russia would not intervene in Ukraine. He called that a “principled position” while calling on the West to follow suit.
Of course, that may depend on how one defines “Ukraine.” The Crimean peninsula has only been part of Ukraine for less than 60 years, after Nikita Khruschev transferred it administratively within the old Soviet Union. It’s still home to a very large community of ethnic Russians and an important Black Sea naval base. And at the moment, it’s home to a growing conflict between the ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars, among others. The Associated Press has raw video of a large clash between the two populations outside of a provincial parliament building today:
The Crimean parliament denies that it’s discussing “withdrawal” from Ukraine (in Russian). Russia Today has live coverage of the protests in Crimea, which are still ongoing. Clearly some in the crowd would like to be discussing “withdrawal” at this point.
In Sevastopol, home of the Russian naval base, ethnic Russians have kicked out the city administrator and installed their own mayor — and wonder when Putin will come to take the city back:
When one of the ousted incumbent’s former deputies threatened on Monday to have Mr Chaliy arrested, hundreds of supporters massed outside the city’s main administration shouting the new mayor’s name and chanting: “Russia! Russia!”
Olga Timofeyeva, a local pro-Russia activist, was jubilant as she recalled their triumph. “Thanks to Chaliy, faith, hope and the strength of soul all have been returned to us,” she said. …
The “most cherished dream” of Sevastopol’s residents is for the city to return to Russian territory, says Ms Timofeyeva. “Being without Russia, for us, is like being homeless. It’s like someone boiled off a piece of our heart and discarded it far away . . . like there’s not enough air to breathe.”
Now, following the events in Kiev, some locals are starting to hope that at least Sevastopol – if not the rest of Crimea – could be taken back under Moscow’s wing.
The “snap-check” of ground-troop force readiness looks like something a little more than military curiosity on the part of Moscow. They may have given up on Viktor Yanukovich, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to give up on Crimea.