Lenta.ru is providing decent coverage of the Crimean crisis as it unfolds. There’s also Ekho Moskvy and grani.ru, all in Russian.

For all I know at the moment, the Crimean regional parliament has been seized by unknown men in an unidentifiable uniform, and that unidentified armored personnel vehicles (APCs) have been spotted in or near Simferopol.


  1. So what’s Putin’s plan for the Ukraine crisis? The Russian military come to the assistance of Russophone Crimeans, issue them with Russian passports and effectively annex Crimea? In other words, do much the same as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Except that in those regions there was at least the excuse there had been bloody ethnic violence, whereas there has been none in independent Ukraine.

    • Putin had two advantages in 2008 he does not have now. South Ossetia had been independent of Tbilisi since 1991, and the Georgian shelling on Tskhinval(i) did not bode well for a peaceful reunion of Georgia and South Ossetia.

      As you say, there is no recent history of ethnic violence in Crimea and the peninsula has been part of Ukraine since independence.

      I fear that the Kremlin will try to provoke violence and disorder in Crimea – I suspect it is already doing so. Whether we’re witnessing an overt Russian invasion, I’m not sure. Rather, a transparently disguised Russian invasion. The people in unmarked uniforms taking control of airports and military installations and cellphone towers are probably Russian officers and NCOs and/or volunteers plus some locals.

      But so far they have not been exposed as such. Moscow is hoping that the Ukrainian government will respond with brute force, leading to large-scale violence across Ukraine. I’m more or less with Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s ex-advisor, on this: http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/02/window-on-eurasia-putin-seeks-to.html.

  2. Yes, it looks like Putin is trying to engineer a crisis so he can “solve” it. I guess at first he must have hoped that Yanukovych could start a counter-revolution in Kharkiv so he could intervene to back the “legitimate president”. But no such luck. I bet he’s fuming at Yanukovych’s spinelessness. Now Putin is seeing how far he can push Russia’s remit to protect its military bases in Crimea. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough anarchy in Ukraine at the moment to make these exercises look entirely plausible so he’s trying to create some chaos with these wholly unconvincing “paramilitaries”.

    As you say, in South Ossetia and Abkhazia Putin at least had the excuse that there was a pre-existing conflict and the locals had genuine fears about Georgian violence. I’ve just been reading Donald Rayfield’s history of Georgia and it turns out Putin was provoking the Georgian government almost from the start of his regime back in 2000 (when Shevardnadze was still in power in Tbilisi), imposing visa restrictions on Georgians, while issuing Russian passports to Abkhazians and South Ossetians and allowing the free flow of goods between those regions and Russia. Maybe he’s trying to do something similar with Ukraine: either he gets a civil war in which he has a chance to install a favourable president, or he can de facto annex Crimea as he has done with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Crimea will exist in the same kind of international legal limbo as those two republics, but so what? Northern Cyprus has been like that for 40 years now. A bloody civil war in Ukraine would also discourage Putin’s opponents in Russia from trying to follow the Maidan example.

    Western powers are probably advising the interim Ukrainian government not to take the bait and to avoid a military response to Russian provocation. On the other hand, the longer this goes on, the less acceptable this passivity will be to the more hotheaded, right-wing elements of the Maidan movement. Splitting the movement between moderates and hardliners will be another bonus for Putin.

    On the other hand, this is a dangerous game. Ukraine has ten times the population of Georgia and it’s far more obviously “European” and much nearer the West.

    • But now Putin is asking the Federation council to authorize military action in Crimea. It is starting to look more like direct military intervention.

  3. It looks like Putin has found a more reliable stooge than Yanukovych in the form of Crimean PM Sergei Aksyonov. Putin will be looking to annex the Crimea with the proposed referendum at the end of March. I guess the Russian army will de facto conquer the Crimea before then and they’ll see how it pans out in the rest of Ukraine.

    But things are moving so fast – and in such a dangerous direction – that I really have no idea how bad this is going to get now. There’s a whiff of the Sudetenland about it. I’m exaggerating there, I admit, but Putin and his followers have been throwing the fascist card around re: Maidan with such abandon that they deserve it. Looks lihe Sochi Olympics are going to be tarnished in international memory at least. If Putin’s intention in hosting those games was to improve Russia’s image in the wider world, then he’s just flushed $50 billion down the toilet.

    • Do you recall how Aksyonov got appointed prime minister? A few days ago, a small group of paramilitaries in a generic uniform seized the Crimean parliament. They never introduced themselves or made any demands but they let in about 55 deputies, out of 100, for an emergency meeting. Then 53 deputies, out of the 55, voted to appoint Aksyonov – all that while watched by the armed men. Some of the non-attending deputies say there was no quorum and there were only 40 deputies inside, rather than 55. As Oleg Kashin wrote from Crimea yesterday, Aksyonov looks like a little boy from a bad comedy film waking up in a grown-up’s body. Apparently he was a nobody in Crimean politics – his party only received 4% of the vote in the latest election.

      Or perhaps he was chosen because of his name, for the sake of a cruel joke by someone like Surkov? “The Island of Crimea” is a well-known novel by the late Vassily Aksyonov, a sort of late-Soviet samizdat classic. It imagines Wrangel’s army keeping the Bolsheviks out in 1920, the island becoming a blooming “other Russia”, but ends with a Soviet invasion.

  4. That should have been “Looks like the Sochi Olympics are going to be tarnished in international memory at least.”

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