Sevastopol & Simferopol Airports Under Russian Military Occupation

Pro-Russian military personnel in Simferopol
Russian military personnel in Simferopol

Summary:

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov confirmed the following: Last night Sevastopol Airport is surrounded by infantry units of the Russian Federation’s navy – they are armed and unmarked but don’t hide their affiliation. The airport is currently not operating. Inside the airport are Ukrainian military. Simferopol Airport was itself surrounded by a militia group, and at 1:30am 119 Russian Federation soldiers arrived in military transport trucks, and continue to patrol the area. The airport was operational for most of the day but flights from Ukraine have since been cancelled as Crimea developed into a no fly zone. Clashes between soldiers and police did not occur. Russian marines overtook a Ukrainian border posts, highways, and the state’s telecommunications and news companies, largely cutting off communication between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. Ukrainian airspace has become entirely become restricted.

Acting president Turchynov considers this an armed invasion and occupation of Ukraine, and called an emergency session in parliament which invoked the Budapest Memorandum, and calls on the US and UK to prevent Russian encroachment and force. Russia has admitted to moving troops into Crimea to “protect” the Black Sea Fleet. 2,000 Russian soldiers have landed in Crimea.

Airport Occupations:

On the night of the 27th UNIAN reported that approximately 6 military trucks full of armed soldiers surrounded the Sevastapol International Airport, which doubles as an Ukrainian Air Force facility. The soldiers, later confirmed by the Ukrainian government to be Russian military, also surrounded a guest residence normally reserved for senior officials. NBNews reported that those on the scene were not able to identify the initial purpose of the soldiers, as they would not initially answer questions to the press.

This news comes directly after armed insurgents occupied the Crimean parliament buildings in Simferopol, raising the Russian flag; while Russia itself scrambled fighter jets after announcing snap military exercises along its western borders with Ukraine.

Local news then reported that Simferopol Airport was also surrounded by militants at 1am local time. Interfax and Ukrainska Pravda confirmed these reports, and that approximately 150 armed unmarked soldiers arrived at Simferopol airport and were dropped off via 3 unmarked Kamaz transport trucks. The airport is still operational. They report that 25 supporters have a Russian naval flag. The soldiers speak with heavy Russian accents and witnesses claim they were equipped with the same military gear as those who occupied Simferopol’s parliament building earlier in the day. Other supporters wore the orange-and-black ribbon, a symbol used by the militant Ukrainian Front.

Russian soldiers continue to patrol Simferopol Airport
Russian soldiers continue to patrol Simferopol Airport

The head of security at the Simferopol airport stated the gunmen “politely” asked security officers to leave, and while refuting an outright takeover, they “arrived at the airport to search for Ukrainian airborne troops. However, after finding out that there was no military present on the tarmac, they apologized and left the territory.”

Russian MP Vladimir Garnachuk, who is now in Simferopol, elaborated that the aim of the operation was to stop the interim Ukrainian president Oleksandr Turchynov from landing in Crimea.

Sevastopol remains occupied and select troops remain patrolling the vicinity of Simferopol as of the morning. (video) The soldiers controlling the Simferopol airport call themselves the “National Guard of Crimea”. As of 6pm local time, 400 troops remained stationed at Sevastopol International and Simferopol airport is no longer allowing flights from Kyiv. Ukrainian airlines have cancelled flights to Crimea entirely, stating that “airspace is closed,” an Flightradar24, and later Reutersconfirmed that air traffic over Crimea has halted entirely.

Unconfirmed video shows alleged Russian attack helicopters, possibly MI-28 Havocs, flying in a group formation toward Sevastopol Airport. According to local media, the news of the gunships was confirmed by Ukrainian Border Guards.

Political Response:

On the morning of the 28th, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on Facebook the following situation: Sevastopol Airport is surrounded by military units of the Russian Federation’s navy – they are armed and unmarked but don’t hide their affiliation. The airport is currently not operating. Inside the airport are Ukrainian military. Simferopol Airport was itself surrounded by a militia group, and previous reports were confirmed, but at 1:30am 119 Russian Federation soldiers arrived in military transport trucks as had occurred in Sevastopol. The airport is still operational and clashes between soldiers and police have not occurred, and that police alone could not confront an army.

“My assessment of what’s going on is that it’s a military intervention and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms” ~ Avakov

Avakov considers this an armed invasion and occupation of Ukraine, and referred to it as a “direct provocation toward armed bloodshed in the territory of a sovereign state.” The Russian Black Sea Fleet, predictably, responded by denying operating at Sevastopol airport, but did not comment on Simferopol; the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed all troop movements have been legal.

Oleksandr Turchynov called for an emergency session of the state’s security chiefs. In Parliament, a resolution was passed calling on Russia to cease encroaching on Ukraine’s sovereign territory and, in invoking the Budapest Memorandum, called on its signatories (the US and UK) to safeguard Ukraine. It also asked asked the U.N. Security Council to call a session to discuss the crisis in the country.

Also in parliament, MP Oleh Lyashko has now put forth a proposal to annul the Kharkiv Accords an evict the Russian navy – the current lease deal extended Russia’s stay in Sevastopol until 2042. The agreement itself, signed by Yanukovych, was criticized as unconstitutional (the 1996 constitution forbids foreign military bases on Ukraine, but the original Partition Treaty dates to 1997). “Given the position the Russian Federation is taking on Crimea, we must immediately abrogate the Kharkhiv Agreements,” said Lyashko. It’s unlikely that Russia would surrender the naval port willingly, as it is both a currently strategic as well as historically symbolic city in to Russia.

Russia has begun wanton aggression against Ukraine under the guise of training exercises. The Russian Federation has sent troops into Crimea, and has not only captured the Crimean parliament and Council of Ministers, but also has taken control of communications facilities […] I am personally addressing President Putin to stop the provocation and call back the military from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and work exclusively within the framework of the signed agreements […] We’re sure that Ukraine will preserve its territory, Ukraine will defend its independence and any attempts of annexation, intrusion will have very serious consequences ~ Turchynov

Acting president Turchynov also said that according to intelligence gathered, Russia is attempting to enact a situation analogous to the Georgian war, and that they are attempting to provoke a reaction to justify annexation.

Russian troop standing outside Simferopol Airport
Russian troop standing outside Simferopol Airport

Ukrainian military:

Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Andriy Parubiy stated during a televised briefing that the two airports were occupied by separate groups commanded by Moscow, and that Ukraine could not deploy military forces in Crimea without introducing a state of emergency. He then made clear that in the event of direct aggression, the Ukrainian army and border guards would make an appropriately measured response. At the moment, no military facilities in Crimea are occupied by Russian forces.

Acting president Turchynov has said that Ukraine’s army are performing their duties but avoiding provocations and engagements, as they realize the stakes involved and the danger an armed conflict would pose to the civilian population.

TSN reported (pending verification) that two SU-27 fithers were scrambled to patrol the airspace along the border of Ukraine and use force if any unauthorized aircraft attempts to cross. At 9:00pm local time, Hronika.info reported that Ukrainian military near Simferopol took up defensive positions to prepare for nay impending assault.

At 1am local time, the Ministry of Defense issued a statement that they received intel informing of an attack on Ukrainian military installations between 2-5am, and that the Ukrainian army would respond if attacked.

Russian military roadblock near Sevastopol
Russian military roadblock near Sevastopol

Russian military activity elsewhere:

A State Border Service detachment in Balaklava (near Sevastopol proper) was reported surrounded by armed by 20 Russian Black Sea Fleet soldiers from the 810th Marine Brigade, armed with automatic weapons. A Reuters reporter saw Ukrainian border police in helmets and riot gear shut inside the border post, with a metal gate pulled shut and metal riot shields placed behind the windows as protection. A servicemen who identified himself as an officer of the Black Sea Fleet told Reuters: “We are here … so as not to have a repeat of the Maidan” and claimed to be protecting Crimea from ‘extremists’. The troops receded to within 25 meters of the border checkpoint and the standoff continues.

The Wall Street Journal is confirming that armed soldiers have taken control of major highways in Crimea in an effort to stop Ukrainian military passage. The troops, armed with AK-74s, have planted Russian flags at their checkpoints. The checkpoints have included renegade Berkut officers, Russian Night Wolves bikers and known neo-Nazis are also manning the blockades.

Armored carriers marked with Russian flags travel to Simferopol
Armored carriers marked with Russian flags travel to Simferopol

According to Ukrainian military sources, 400 Russian reinforcements arrived in Sevastopol on the morning of the 28th. 4 large Russian IL-76 aircraft landed, and 10 Russian APCs were traveling in a convoy from the Sevastopol base to Simferopol.

Ukrayinska Pravda reports that Ukrtelecom has lost touch with its Crimean branch, and communication centers have been shut down and occupied, cutting off the region from mainland Ukraine. Crimea’s state radio and television company was also occupied. A video surfaced that appeared to show Russian troops occupying a Ukrainian naval facility. By 3pm a military airfield in Novofedorivka was captured. Near midnight, reports surfaced that Russian troops attempted to disarm the 36th Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed forces, but the situation dissolved without gunfire.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bidt stated that Russian troop movements appeared to be an attempt to establish “new gray zones and frozen conflicts.”

Renegade Berkut

Berkut man military checkpoint
Berkut man military checkpoint

Renegade Berkut officers have been seen manning checkpoints and working in tangent with Russian troops between the mainland Ukrainian passing and Crimea. Recall that the units were officially dissolved by the Ukrainian government in recent days for their part in the killing of dozens of Kyiv protesters. Since this time, installed Russian mayor of Sevastopol has reinstated the units and offered asylum to those charged. On the 28th, the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Simferopol “urgently requested to take all necessary steps to start issuing Russian passports to Berkut squad members.” Presumably, this would enable Russia to claim first blood should intra-Ukrainian clashes erupt between the units and Ukrainian military.

Russia declares war?

Censor.net, citing confirmation from TSN, quote former Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and Fatherland MP Mustafa Cemilev, that on the 27th Russian Vice Admiral Vitko gathered all generals at a meeting declared that Russia would be “starting a war with Ukraine;” Cemilev then petitioned Turchynov to declare a state of emergency.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has admitted to moving troops into Crimea to “protect Black Sea Fleet’s positions” and declined a Ukrainian request for “bilateral consultations” because they are “the result of recent internal political processes in Ukraine.”

At 2:48pm EST AFP announced that 2,000 Russian soldiers had landed at a military air base near Simferopol in an “armed invasion,” says senior Ukrainian official Sergiy Kunitsyn.

Provocations

Anti-semitic graffiti appeared overnight at one of Simferopol’s synagogues, bearing the symbol of the SNA (a group within the militant pro-Ukrainian Right-Sector). The head of Crimea’s Jewish community downplayed the possibility of Right Sector’s involvement, and that it was likely done by others to destabilize the region.

Snyder: Russian intervention could inspire Beijing

 It should go without saying that an attempt to seize Ukrainian territory would be a disaster in the short run, ruining Russian credibility around the world and likely starting a major war. In the long term, such an action, even if it were to succeed, would set a rather troubling precedent — for Russia itself.

Beijing pays attention to Ukraine because it has a major stake in Ukrainian agricultural territories. It will likely note the developing Russian doctrine on the flexibility of Russia’s external borders. China also has a stake in eastern Siberia. It needs fresh water, hydrocarbons, mineral resources such as copper and zinc, and fertile soil for its farmers. The Chinese economic relationship with eastern Siberia is a colonial one: China buys raw materials and sells finished goods. Beijing actually invests more in eastern Siberia than does Moscow. No one knows the exact number of Chinese citizens in eastern Siberia — in part because the last Russian census declined to count them — but it certainly dwarfs the number of Russians in Crimea, and is expected by Russian analysts to increase significantly with time.

It seems rather risky for Russia to develop, on its own border, a challenge to the basic premise of territorial sovereignty. Beijing and Moscow currently enjoy good relations, and Chinese leaders are too sophisticated to consider open threats to eastern Siberia. But down the road, as demographic pressures mount and Russian resources beckon, a Russian doctrine of the ethnic adjustments of Russian borders could provide Beijing with a useful model.

Timothy Snyder is an American historian and Professor of History at Yale University.

Read the full article

Ukrainian Policy note: More on the Chinese demographic issue in Siberia can be read in Will China Colonize and Incorporate Siberia? by Richard Rousseau and in China Doesn’t Back Russia’s Invasion Of Crimea — And That’s A Big Problem For Putin featured in Business Insider. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Mr Walden says the Chinese have never forgiven Russia for seizing East Siberia under the Tsars, the “lost territories”. They want their property back, and they are getting it back by ethnic resettlement across the Amur and the frontier regions, much as Mexico is retaking California and Texas by the Reconquista of migration.

The population of far Eastern Siberia has collapsed to 6.3m from over 8 million twenty years ago, leaving ghost towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Russia has failed to make a go of its Eastern venture. With a national fertility rate of 1.4, chronic alcoholism, and a population expected to shrink by 30m to barely more than 110m by 2050 — according to UN demographers, not Mr Putin’s officials — the nation must inexorably recede towards its European bastion of Old Muscovy. The question is how fast, and how peacefully.

Russians Seize Simferopol

crimea
Russian flag flies over Crimea’s parliament

Amid ethnic and military tensions, at 4:20am on February 27, a group of up to 120 armed Russian insurgents armed with automatic weapons seized the Crimean parliament in the capital of Simferopol. Reuters and Interfax are confirming the events. Insurgents shot at entryway doors, eventually breaking them down. Eyewitnesses described them as professionals (“like marines”) and heavily armed. The seizure was described as pre-meditated, and that in the first wave about 30 men broke into the building. The building was cordoned off by police but not well, and  afterwards a bus arrived carrying the additional reinforcements who were carrying Kalashnikovs, SVD sniper rifles, RPGs, combinations devices, and ammunition.

The gunmen were unmarked but raised Russian flags. In particular, the Russian flag was raised over the capital building so as to signify its occupation. They wore black and orange St. George ribbons, a Russian and Soviet symbol used prominently by the now dissolved militant Ukrainian Front, and erected a sign saying ‘Crimea is Russia’, according to AP. The ribbons have also been worn by vigilantes in recent assaults in Kerch, Crimea.

A high-ranking Ukrainian official in Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry stated the insurgents were Russian: “Nobody can understand who took over, but it seems it’s the Russians,” the Foreign Ministry source said. Local authorities have claimed that the men were from local ‘self-defense’ militias. Pro-Russian groups have openly been openly recruiting for so-called “self defense” militias in recent days (video). Mustafa Jemilov, former head of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatar people, believes them to be either Russian soldiers, or former Berkut soldiers loyal to Russia. Illegally installed, de facto mayor of the city of Sevastopol, Alexei Chaly, has actively recruited form former Berkut riot police who were dismissed by the government following the killings of nearly 100 in Kyiv. The renegade Berkut, armed with assault rifles, have been seen manning military checkpoints on Crimean highways under the Russian flag.

Berkut man military checkpoint
Berkut man military checkpoint

Eyewitnesses report that participants of the ongoing protests stayed overnight as the parliament remained barricaded with debris, and by sunset unmarked individuals were seen in full combat gear. One security guard was killed in the raid, and other police were released. At least 100 police surrounded parliament. Entrances to the building have since been sealed with wooden crates.

At this moment the armed men have no made any demands, saying they are not authorized to either hold talks or make demands. Lifenews reports that the gunmen informed protesters that they came to “protect the interests of the Russian population,” and KP quoted that they stated their rejection of the Kyiv government. They also informed that they would open fire on any who approached the building.

The Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has informed that the neighborhood around parliament has been cordoned off by police to prevent civilian casualties.

The event takes place one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered ordering a surprise military exercise of ground and air forces. The New York Times reports that residents have seen Russian military vehicles with greater frequency on their streets. In response to the occupation, Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov has called on Russian forces stationed in Sevastopol to not leave its naval base, and that any troop movement outside agreed territories would be considered an act of military aggression. Avakov meanwhile stated that he believed the group to be terrorists attempting to provoke a confrontation between Ukrainian and Russian military forces.

As a result of the standoff, Crimea’s parliament, at gunpoint, sacked its Cabinet and ordered a referendum on “autonomy” for May 25 to coincide with Ukraine’s presidential elections. The referendum will ask “Do you support the state independence of Crimea as part of Ukraine on the basis of treaties and agreements?”

A live YouTube feed can be seen here, and local coverage here

 

The Hunt for Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych is a wanted man. Today Ukraine’s acting Interior Ministry announced the deposed president, along with roughly 50 other top officials of the collapsed regime, were being placed under criminal investigation with Yanukovych placed on the nation’s Most Wanted list. While he still seems to have symbolic, if not fading backing from Russia, Yanukovych’s support base has fallen through the floor among all but his closest associates. Even his own Party of Regions has denounced him as a criminal and murderer. But where did he go? Where is the sultan turned vagabond?

Known locations
Known locations

Shortly after it was announced that impeachment proceedings would be taken against him, Yanukovych fled the capital along with cohort Andriy Klyuyev. Rumors swirled over whether he had gone to Kharkiv, to attend the separatist Ukrainian Front conference, or Dubai. The latter, we now know, was a decoy; those following on the Twittersphere were quick to track his alleged flight information in an attempt to pin down. Yanukovych instead flew by helicopter to Kharkiv to avoid detection.

Tenant Prime Minister Turchynov claimed Yanukovych had agreed to resign as president, but after consulting with advisers, he disavowed the decision and submitted a pre-recorded tape claiming his right to rule. Yanukovych said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal” and that “The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s – a common line of rhetoric among Russian officials to shore up post-war sensitivities in the post-Soviet republic. 

Following the parliamentary procedures to transfer power to the new provisional government, Attorney General Pshonka and Taxation Minister Klymenko were stopped at the Russian border while trying to flee the country. Yanukovych then flew from Kharkiv to Donetsk aboard his helicopter, where he then, according to the State Border Service, tried to flee via a charter flight on one of two Dassault Falcon jets in Donetsk, but was stopped by border guards. The border agents were “met by a group of armed men who offered money for flying without the proper clearance”. Yanukovych then left by armored car, and spent a few hours at a state residence in the city – sources indicate he was abetted by Rinat Akhmetov. Former Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko (who we now know gave the official order to fire on protesters) also attempted to fly out of Donetsk and was denied access for similar reasons.

Yanukovych and Klyuyev
Yanukovych and Klyuyev

Yanukovych’s motorcade then left for Crimea, leaving state traffic police who protected him behind. The next day, February 23rd, he visited a private resort while intentionally avoiding state or known residences to avoid detection. Rada reputy  Oleh Lyashko claimed Yanukovych was seen at the Russian Naval base in Sevastopol where he was preparing to flee via Russian military vessel (this was reciprocated in media reports on the 24th). Ukrainian MiG fighter jets were scrambled during the search and it’s said at this time he was abetted by deposed defense minister Pavlo Lebedev.

Authorities attempted to intercept Yanukovych’s motorcade at the international airport in Sevastopol, but one step ahead, he never arrived. Authorities then lost his trail finally on February 24th near his family’s Crimean residence in the the former city of Balaklava, where he released those in his presidential secret service from duty who wished to stand down. The released guards then collected the weapons that officially belong to the government so they could be handed over to the authorities.

Oleksandr Yanukovych restored a series of historical waterfront homes and leased land for a private yacht club in this very area, which remains a possible site of hiding. Journalist Tetyana Chornovol meanwhile speculated that instead he was likely to flee by sea aboard his son’s private yacht, suitably christened “Bandit,” but local reports indicated the yacht hasn’t been seen in some time and GPS data confirms it’s last known location to be far away.

Following parting ways with a portion of his security staff, he, along with  his most loyal guards, narrowed the motorcade down to 3 vehicles and left, turning off all communication devices. Reports conflicted as to the whereabouts of Klyuyev: according to acting Interior Minister Avakov, he remained with the president; according to Klyuev’s spokesman Artyom Petrenko, he tendered his resignation to the president in Crimea on the 23rd, saying he “couldn’t stop Yanukovych.” He was then allegedly shot and wounded, with media stating the shootout occurred on his trip back to Kyiv. Petrenko claims Klyuyev is currently in an unspecified Kyiv hospital. 

On Wednesday, Klyuyev issued a statement through his press office, distancing himself from Yanukovych, denying his involvement in the Kyiv killings, and stating his intent to cooperate with authorities.

The trail in Crimea had appeared to run officially cold on the 26th, with Interior Minister Avakov admitting that the search was pulled back in Sevastopol to avoid possible armed conflicts in the troubled city. “I think we must not allow any military standoff or conflict to happen. I shall be extremely candid with you: it was one of the reasons why on the night when Valentyn Nalyvaichenko (the head of the Ukrainian Security Council) and I were in Sevastopol, in Crimea, we chose not to continue tough actions with respect of Viktor Yanukovych… Because at that moment we knew it was essentially an affront for armed conflict with grounds for [Russian] forces to interfere in this conflict… We made the decision that the future of Crimea is more important for us than the situation with Yanukovych,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

radisson

Map of the Moscow area and his last known location
Map of the Moscow area and his last known location

The manhunt was escalated to an international search as reports surfaced that Yanu had successfully made he was through the Kerch Strait along with his son Viktor Jr. and into Russian protectionMultiple sources, stated to be confirmed by high-placed Russian officials and law enforcement, alleged that the night prior he had arrived in Moscow, and was seen at the Radisson Royal (confirmed by hotel management). There, he apparently spent all night until Wednesday morning on the 11th floor at a private club restaurant under heightened private security; fugitive former General Prosecutor Pshonka is believed to be with him and his other son, Oleksandr, is reported to have reunited the family.

He is now presumed to be in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha. An RBC report indicated that a house in Barvikha was purchased by a group of Ukrainian citizens for $52 million, and that the house is now under guard. “Yesterday Ukrainian citizens came with passports and without bargaining, bought it, said Russian politician Oleg Mitvol. Previous sources to RBC had indicated Yanukovych was stationed at a local resort.

Head of the Russian Foreign Affairs Committee Mikhail Margelov denied the rumors, saying that Russia wouldn’t risk giving him asylum. Later, the official newspaper of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, [humorously] alleged that the CIA had whisked Yanukovych Stateside after offering him and his family personal guarantees of safety should he step away from the political arena. The paper followed by refuting Yanukovych’s asylum by the Russian Navy in Cossack Bay, Sevastopol, ‘Yanukovych is not in the facilities or ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,’ citing an ‘informed military source’. Ultimately, the Russian Border Service neither confirmed nor denied the earlier reports on Yanukovych’s entering the country.

Interfax, citing Russian government sources, confirms that Yanukovych is indeed being provided asylum in Russia.

On February 27 Yanukovych resurfaced, sending a message to Ukraine declaring himself still the legitimate president of the country. In his address, he stated he was “forced to ask the authorities of the Russian Federation to ensure [his] personal safety from the actions of extremists.” A government source confirmed that Yanukovych’s request has been granted “on the territory of the Russian Federation.” Later, newly elected head of Crimea’s parliament, Sergei Aksenov of the fringe Russian Unity party said that he recognized Yanukovych as the true president of Ukraine and that he would obey his orders – and presumably provide him save haven should he return to Ukraine. Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters he was glad the Russian government has provided Yanukovych with security personnel.

In the evening, Yanukovych arrived in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don via airplane at 10pm local time to hold a news conference in Rostov-on-Don at 5pm on Friday February 28. In it he claimed he would return to Ukraine only if given security guarantees, and credited ‘patriotic officers’ with enabling him to escape Ukraine into Russia. “It was thanks to patriotic officers that I was able to get to Russia. Let me put it this way: officers who did their duty and helped me stay alive,” Yanukovych told reporters at the conference.

This story will update as new information becomes available. Last updated 2/28 at 10:45 am EST

Did Lviv Just Declare Independence?

On February 19th what happened in Lviv was passed under the radar by most news outlets and completely misinterpreted by others. Lviv declared its independence…or, well, it sort of did, but not really…in any sense of the true meaning of the word. The IBTimes sensationally and erroneously described Lviv as declaring its independence, which was then reciprocated by the Russian KommersantTSN was quick to use similar language. Mark MacKinnon of the Globe&Mail described the event as declaring its autonomy from Yanukovych’s government – finally some accuracy.

Here is a full translation of the decree (emphasis ours):

In determining this, we need to be organized, responsible and united, because only in this way will we protect your family, your country, your people.

The will of the community of Lviv, Lviv Oblast Executive Committee Board – National Council assumes full responsibility for the fate of the land and people.

The Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada headed by the Chairman, Chief of Staff of national resistance of Lviv Peter Kolodiy included representatives of deputies, Self Defense Maidan other unions activists, public figures and well-known scientists.

The main task of the Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada is to maintain life support and order in the region, facilitating in sending activists to Kyiv, the Kyiv Maidan everything you need.

Legitimate authorities in Lviv are popularly elected local councils and their created executive committees.

Most of the regional police station in Lviv has announced a shift in the direction of the Ukrainian people and are subordinate to the executive committee of the Lviv regional council – the National Rada.

The Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada subjugates all executive agencies located in the region and calls on all public servants and citizens calling execute decisions and orders signed by the President of the National Rada, Petro Kolodiy.

The first thing of note would be the word narod, which in Ukrainian means “people,” but in the sense of a nation group (this gets sticky with political implications). We see the word used in the Ukrainian National Republic, for example. (the wikipedia page linked is incorrectly titled, as I have consulted the 1948 Press Service of the Foreign Representation of the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council – and the state was called the National Republic in official documentation, for example). I digress. The point in their naming is not that it is a new nation-state, but rather its jurisdiction extends to and for all Ukrainians. The will of the council (Rada) will act as sovereign to all persons within its territory, ensuring the security and wellbeing of all. They can do this because the regional police and Security Service have likewise declared their allegiance to the council.

The declaration also makes note that the authorities will be those locally elected, thus cutting off the authority of the now illegitimate Yanukovych regime. What’s notable, however, is that all executive agencies and public servants now fall under their purview. It’s also notable that no mention of this being a temporary or provisional measure was made.

Now, it should be noted that other National or People’s Radas have sprouted up in western Ukraine during the political conflict, but what makes this case special is that rather than just declaring its existence, it has declared its authority as legitimate. The first occupation of the Lviv Regional State Administration took place in January and the stated goal of the occupation(s) was to ‘take control of all state organs‘. On February 13, the General Prosecutor’s office had courts declare this very council illegal and illegitimate. This time around, however, there is no judicial oversight, the security apparatus in the region has recognized its authority, and more importantly, there is no government currently in Kyiv to supersede it or impose an alternative. It exists because it has no other option this time.

Lviv declaring regional autonomy is an under the radar spectacle. In Crimea there is serious debate on separatism, and as of today, the SBU is criminally investigating the Governor of Kharkiv Oblast and Mayor of Kharkiv for illegally discussing separatism – in news sources they have only mentioned instituting federalism; that is, increasing regional autonomy just as Lviv had days prior.

How long this will last is anyone’s guess. The mayor has said it is a temporary measure, presumably until presidential elections are finalized. It’s clear at this point that Lviv will not tolerate a Yanukovych appointed governor, and even if a new regime is brought in, it’s not certain that a Svoboda backed Rada would accept the authority of just any appointee from the Fatherland or UDAR camp. And even if their guard remains up, it’s unlikely the new judiciary will allow the de facto National Council to operate without some sort of constitutional reform. While Lviv did not declare independence from Ukraine in any sense of the word, it certainly wants to act more independently, at least for the time being. But let’s call a spade a spade.

Coup on the Horizon

Today’s deal of compromise between the united opposition and Viktor Yanukovych has yielded little love from the Euromaidan crowds. So little, that violence may come of it. The fragile peace agreement is beneficial insofar as it maintains the tempers of the Kyivan crowds, but baseline concessions may be too little too late.

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In response to the deal, Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh rejected the agreement, stating “We have to state the obvious fact that the criminal regime had not yet realized either the gravity of its evil doing,” and said the agreement failed to address the arrest of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, Berkut commanders involved in the murder of civilians, removal of General Prosecutor Pshonka and Defense Ministers, ban on the Party of Regions and Communist Party, and guarantees of safety for those involved in the opposition. He then called for the ‘people’s revolution’ to continue until there is a full removal of power from authorities. Euromaidan self-defense leader Andriy Parubiy insisted that elections be held as soon as possible, and reiterated that one of the main demands of protesters has been the resignation of President Yanukovych. Automaidan also announced it also would not accept anything short of Yanukovych’s resignation.

These are all valid claims. The concessions made today would have been acceptable to the crowds in November, maybe even January, but not after the massacre that occurred on the 20th. With blood on his hands, Yanukovych cannot command public confidence, even if it’s for 9 months. Nobody will pretend nothing happened for the next 9 months. A lame duck option isn’t possible.

Vitali Klitschko apologized to the crowd on Maidan if he offended anyone by shaking hands with Yanukovych, realizing he was at risk of losing the crowd, and thus the people’s, support. Activists on Maidan responded to the deal by booing opposition leaders. Then an anonymous Sotnia soldier took the stage with opposition leaders standing by speechless, and warned that if Yanukovych does not resign by 10am the next day, an armed coup would be staged. Even radical Oleh Lyashko expressed his support to the call that Yanukovych resign by the 10am deadline; “Either he resigns, or we take him away,” Lyashko told the crowd.

Yarosh made it clear that he and his men would not disarm or surrender state buildings unless the president capitulated. Coffins of the deceased were brought to the Euromaidan stage. To prove they weren’t kidding (unknowns) torched the summer home of pro-Russian and Putin family member Viktor Medvedchuk’s summer home. A message has been sent.

2014-02-21_11-04_Euromaidan_in_Kiev

In the early morning, Andriy Parubiy, speaking in his capacity as leader of Maidan self-defense and security, announced that all opposition factions had agreed to take further action, and that the military was with them. He made clear that all government buildings in central Kyiv were under their control.

Parubiy, it seems, has succeeded in finding arguments for the Maidan. God willing! Now all the leaders of the Sotnia [companies] are declaring their consent to coordinated action, including the hundreds of the Right Sector” – journalist Natalia Ligacheva

Parubiy reappeared appeared on stage with  military staff to a cheering crowd.

We’re in control of Kiev. We have seized control of the government quarter […] We created a headquarters in the Maidan and we will not tolerate any action without coordinating with it. We must show that when Kyiv is under the control of the Maidan, there will be order in Kyiv. Where there is Maidan, there will be order and discipline.”

At night, it was announced that Maidan self-defense formations had occupied all government buildings in Kyiv, including the Cabinet, Parliament, and most importantly the Presidential Administration. According to Parubiy, 700 (or 7 Sotnia, if that’s your preferred unit of measurement) currently occupy Parliament, 1,900 are in the Presidential Administration, and another 1,500 in the Interior Ministry. Their numbers grow as more conscripts join and disenfranchised police defect.

So far it doesn’t look like the Sotnia of Parubiy, Yarosh, and Danyliuk are going to wait for this to end on it’s own. They may just take it. And with the city devoid of police forces at the moment, it’s theirs for the taking. 

This article will update as the situation develops

Snyder: Putin’s Eurasianism

Concerning the formation of a Eurasian Union of post-Soviet states, Timothy Snyder elaborates on the ideological roots of Putin politics, and the underpinnings of the propaganda that fuels it. Often times those who oppose Russian imperialism are labelled as fascists by state media in attempts to discredit opposing views. Snyder discusses in his upcoming piece for the New York Review both the obvious irony in such criticism, as well as the foundations of what may ultimately amount to Russian fascism in open policy.

The ethnic purification of the communist legacy is precisely the logic of National Bolshevism, which is the foundational ideology of Eurasianism today. Putin himself is an admirer of the philosopher Ivan Ilin, who wanted Russia to be a nationalist dictatorship.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

The point man for Eurasian and Ukrainian policy in the Kremlin is Sergei Glazyev, an economist who like Dugin tends to combine radical nationalism with nostalgia for Bolshevism. He was a member of the Communist Party and a Communist deputy in the Russian parliament before cofounding a far-right party called Rodina, or Motherland. In 2005 some of its deputies signed a petition to the Russian prosecutor general asking that all Jewish organizations be banned from Russia. Later that year Motherland was banned from taking part in further elections after complaints that its advertisements incited racial hatred.

Why exactly do people with such views think they can call other people fascists? And why does anyone on the Western left take them seriously? One line of reasoning seems to run like this: the Russians won World War II, and therefore can be trusted to spot Nazis. Much is wrong with this. World War II on the eastern front was fought chiefly in what was then Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus, not in Soviet Russia. Five percent of Russia was occupied by the Germans; all of Ukraine was occupied by the Germans. Apart from the Jews, whose suffering was by far the worst, the main victims of Nazi policies were not Russians but Ukrainians and Belarusians. There was no Russian army fighting in World War II, but rather a Soviet Red Army. Its soldiers were disproportionately Ukrainian, since it took so many losses in Ukraine and recruited from the local population. The army group that liberated Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front.

Timothy Snyder is an American historian and Professor of History at Yale University.

Read the full article

Hepburn: Putin’s meddling in Ukraine sinister

The former colonel’s approach follows standard practices, which Putin acquired at the KGB. First, create chaos where you want to rule then oppress the population, introduce fear, force a crisis and, finally, take over by offering “salvation” from the opposition now called right-wing extremists, mobsters and terrorists.

Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has been escalating. He gained expanded control for foreign policy, defence and security ministries. Hateful anti-Ukrainian propaganda bombard the media in both countries and in the West to discourage support for the opposition. Currently, the most dangerous tactic is the insinuation Russia must be part of the resolution of the crisis, despite having had a heavy hand in destabilizing Ukraine by pressuring Yanukovych to drop progress to Euro integration at the 11th hour. Throwing the fox among the chickens is not the way out of Ukraine’s crisis.

As was the case under the former USSR, however, Western-grown neo-Russia apologists like Stephen Cohen, Dmytir Simes or under-informed pundits like Patrick Buchanan are Russia enablers. They snarl at the U.S. to stay out of Ukraine’s internal affairs, allowing Russia to advance as a peacemaker, despite ongoing documentation of its hand in the violence since protests began in November and war rhetoric.

Read the full article

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former Canadian government executive, is a founding member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.

Is Russia Opening a ‘Crimean Front’?

Recent discussions, such as Ukrainian journalist Velentina Samar’s article, Russia has Opened a Crimean Front, assert that experts are now seeing the necessary preconditions for Russia engaging in a ‘Georgian scenario’ with regard to Crimea. In the aforementioned article, Samar claims that there is clear evidence that such an Anschluss is already being carried out. American analyst Paul Goble was kind enough to offer translation and commentary on the scenario as well in his own article.

Samar points out the ongoing Russian pressure from trade wars to act as a lever in the region, its current involvement in the formation of a ‘fifth column’, and the laying of groundwork for military deployment.

Neo Cossacks
Militants & neo-Cossacks at a rally in Sevastopol

With regard to the emergence of a fifth column in Crimea, possible suitors could be neo-Cossacks, the use of Russian biker gangs, or neo-Soviet radicals in general. The issue here which requires further study is just how much popular support such groups could rally, or how effective their mobilization could be. By and large, the majority of the nation’s so-called Antimaidans outside of Kiev have taken place in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but not much has else has taken place in the rest of the republic. While incredible for their visual symbolism, the effectiveness of these groups remains to be seen. As Goble pointed out recently, “ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues.” The Russian Bloc, if used as a measure of political radicalism in Crimea, is for all intents and purposes is fringe even in the regional scene. While Ossetia was in crisis, Crimea is comparatively sleeping.

With regard to potential military involvement, Samar does allege what would be troubling developments in Crimea at the moment. Vladislav Surkov, former Deputy Prime Minister and noted supporter of Chechen leader Kadyrov, who is also known for his his involvement in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has recently been visiting Crimea to speak with the political leadership. The discussions, she says, concern the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting Crimea to Russia. This, while potentially a long-term play, would allow for theoretical troop movements to take place. When Russia invaded Georgia, it did so via the Roki Tunnel.

Umland’s recent article The EU should prevent the “Georgian scenario” in Ukraine, also weighs in on this topic, pointing out that notable pro-Russian politicians and activists has begun petitioning for Moscow to intervene in Ukraine to “protect” the inhabitants of the Black Sea peninsula, which holds a Russian ethnic majority. The echoes of the need to protect Russians abroad misleadingly points to the Georgian scenario and here is why: South Ossetia’s population prior to invasion was 3% Russian (2,100) citizens. Abkhazia, by comparison, also had no ethnic Russian minority of note. The pretext, instead, was that much of the population (illegally) held dual Russian citizenship. A much better historical comparison of ethnic liberation as a pretext for invasion would be the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia. Also, a Georgian scenario would require an armed civil conflict between the Ukrainian military and Crimean separatists, a Sudeten scenario would only require allegations of oppression.

So, is Russia really opening a Crimean Front?

Motyl illustrated recently the ineffectiveness of a separatist or occupation scenario. The ruling regime benefits more from the threat of separatism in order to receive concessions, than from actually leaving the country. The Crimea is an economic sink on the state budget, receiving considerable subsidization from Kiev. A pseudo-independent Crimea would require substantial investment and subsidization from Moscow – a Crimea within the Russian Federation would be even costlier. South Ossetia has a population of 55,000 people, while Crimea’s population is nearly 2 million. That is also 2 million potential less pro-Russian voters in Ukrainian borders.The realpolitik conclusions here are straightforward from Russia’s perspective. Perhaps it is too early, and sensational, to speak of a ‘Crimean Front’ having already been opened.