Russian Invasion of Ukraine
On February 27th, Russian naval infantry forces seized control of the Crimean capital, installing through a vote at gunpoint, a radical pro-Russian politician. Days prior, protests in Crimea erupted demanding secession, primarily in Simferopol and Sevastopol – in Sevastopol, a Russian citizen was named de facto mayor of the city. On the night of February 28th Russian forces then took the airports in both cities, and continued to spread out, establishing control of border posts, military installations, telecommunications buildings, and the media. Airspace is now restricted. Crimea’s de facto PM declared control over Ukraine’s military within Crimea, and Russia approved the use of force to stabilize the situation in Ukraine. No clashes have yet erupted between both nation’s armed forces. Some figures place the Russian presence as high as 28,000 troops.
Mass demonstrations have taken place across the south and east of the country protesting the Russian invasion, while smaller groups of Russian nationalists have violently stormed government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Odessa. The Ukrainian armed forces remain at high alert and have announced a mobilization of its reservists, and many have volunteered to take up arms.
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 […] We’re sure that Ukraine will preserve its territory, Ukraine will defend its independence, and any attempts of annexation or intrusion will have very serious consequences
– Acting Ukrainian President Turchynov
Article was last updated Mar 4 @ 4:20pm EST
LIVE timeline, March 1st: It’s official
At 1am local time on March 1st, 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. In turn, at 2am, the military airfield in Kirovske was captured by Russian soldiers. There is an unconfirmed report from Seabreeze.org.ua that the Nikolai Filchenkov Alligator-class landing ship, capable of carrying 300-400 troops, is due to arrive in Sevastopol this morning. UNIAN confirmed the arrival of the ship, citing military sources and that some 700 Russian Airborne paratroopers were aboard.
A Request to Declare War
“I appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to assist in maintaining peace”
At 8:45am, controversially appointed Crimean PM Sergei Aksenov issued a statement declaring that due to the worsening situation involving
Russian “unidentified armed groups” and “military equipment” in the region, and the inability of police to deal with with the military threat, he invokes his constitutional powers to subsume all regional police, border guards, security forces, and Ukrainian army & navy under his direct authority, and away from the new central government in Kyiv. He then directed all military commanders to only follow his direct orders, and that any dissenters would be dismissed from the service. “Given the above, realizing their responsibility for the lives and safety of citizens, I appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to assist in maintaining peace and tranquility in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” the statement concluded. The Russian presidential administration quickly responded that it would not disregard the appeal to assist in ‘ensuring peace and tranquility in the autonomy.’ Russia’s state-owned Gazprom then issued notice that if Ukraine did not repay its debts, Russia would raise its prices, canceling previously negotiated discounts. Aksenov later issued a decree calling for March 30th elections on whether to join Russia, declare independence, or retain its current status.
Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk stated that “Ukraine will not succumb to provocations and not resort to force” and that the military was careful not to provoke a violent confrontation. “Sole responsibility for the escalation of the conflict lies with the person at the head of the Russian Federation,” he concluded.
The request, however, was reciprocated by Putin, who issued the following statement, requesting the use of military force to secure Crimea:
“Due to the extraordinary situation on Ukraine, threatened the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots; the personnel of the military contingent of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation located in accordance with the international agreement on the territory of Ukraine (Autonomous Republic of Crimea), on the basis of paragraph “D” Part 1 of Article 102 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation am submitting to the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation appeal for use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine to the normalization of the political situation in this country.”
Russia’s upper house of parliament voted unanimously Saturday to approve sending Russian military forces into Ukraine. A new bill was drafted in the Russian Duma as well, making it easier for Ukrainians to acquire Russian citizenship (they would only need know the Russian language), as well as allowing for ‘new entities’ to join the Russian Federation. During the session, Russian parliamentarian Yuri Vorobyov slammed US president Obama’s statements on Russian non-intervention a direct threat to the Russian people. Other Russian Council members argued that troops were needed in mainland Ukraine until constitutional order (i.e. the previous pro-Russian regime) could be restored, and that their presence was needed to protect Ukraine’s Russian population. In a final move to solidify Russia’s stance on the situation, the Duma also declared that Ukraine’s scheduled presidential elections on May 25th would not be recognized.
When asked if Russia was concerned U.S. or NATO troops could be sent into Ukraine to counteract Russian forces, Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko responded, “On what grounds? We have not given [NATO and the U.S.] consent to deploy troops there.” Matviyenko suggested sending in a “limited contingent” of Russian military – similar language was noted to be used during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Off the Crimean coast, two Russian anti-submarine warships were sighted, violating an agreement on Moscow’s lease of a naval base, Interfax news agency quoted a Ukrainian military source as saying. The source said the two vessels, part of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, had been sighted in a bay at Sevastopol, where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet has a base. In Sevastopol, Russian troops (confirmed by Russian license plates) surrounded a Ukrainian military unit.
In cyber warfare, the Russian language social network VK began blocking pro-democratic Ukrainian pages. In one notable instance, the VK page for Ukrainian militant group Right Sector was hacked, and a statement was posted pleading to Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov to aid Ukraine – a controversial statement to discredit the Ukrainians as supporting terrorists. This precipitated Putin-installed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to issue a statement threatening Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh with death.
By late night, the Interpreter, citing an anonymous source, wrote that outside of Feodosia in the town of Sudak, in eastern Crimea, the situation is tense as another military base has been seized by Russian forces.
“Everything seems to be quiet for now, but very tense. Near us the military base has been seized, Ukrainian soldiers are not resisting, because the advantage of forces is on Russia’s side by about 5 times. Crimeans realize that they have wound up as hostages of the situation. The civilian population is not being touched, the Russian soldiers are concentrating on the airfields or the army bases.”
Shooting in Simeropol
Ukraine’s Channel 5 and Le Fiagro (France) reported that 20 masked militants without insignia opened fire with Russian-made assault rifles and grenade launchers on the streets of Simferopol. A brief battle allegedly took place at the House of Trade Unions between them and Russian soldiers. According to one eyewitness, the unidentified insurgents tried to storm the building. Police have not yet commented on the situation. No civilians were injured. (video & more video) The Russian media portrayed the men as Ukrainian extremists.
March 2nd: Russian expansion
The U.S. tracked “thousands more” of Russian troops entering into Ukraine’s Crimea on Sunday to reinforce Russian positions, a senior U.S. official said. Russian troops seized the military installations and airfields in Dzhankoy and Kerch (eastern Crimea), attempted to disarm the 39th and 191st Training unit of the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol, and hundreds of soldiers laid siege to the 36th Ukrainian Coastal Defense unit in Perevalne (between Simferopol and Alushta). Standoffs with Russian forces took place, including with Interior Troops and marines who refused to stand down. Auxiliaries were called up from retirement or inactive status with Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and wore black-and-orange ribbons or red armbands identifying themselves as “volunteers of the autonomous republic of Crimea.”
“We gave an oath to the state of Ukraine, not an oath to one particular general, and certainly not one from another country,”
– Major Rostislav Lomtev
In major news, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky defected from the Ukrainian Navy to the Republic of Crimea, which Russian-installed Crimean leader Sergei Aksenov. Berezovsky had before his dismissal and official defection, ordered all Ukrainian troops to lay down arms and accept the Russian invasion, which was rejected by Ukrainian officers who informed the Ministry of Defense of his treason. Later, electricity was cut to the main Ukrainian naval base. Following the defection, Aksenov declared the creation of a new Crimean Navy, headed by Berezovsky, and the future creation of a Ministry of Defense. March 2nd “will go down in the history of autonomy, as the day of formation of all its security forces,” he said.
In Mykolayiv, video evidence shows presumably Russian nationalists (waving Soviet flags and wearing St. George ribbons) attempting to establish a roadblock near the southern Ukrainian city and prevent a Ukrainian military convoy from passing. The convoy included a column of tanks preparing to mobilize. Videos indicate that local police were able to disperse the small crowd.
The Kyiv Post reported that at Russian controlled military checkpoints, soldiers confiscated filming equipment, bulletproof vests and helmets carried by journalists. By Sunday, no media were allowed to not only enter Crimea, but escape it – an exception only permitted for Russian press. “We told them they were on the territory of Ukraine, but they said they don’t think so. They think they’re now on Russian territory,” a Hromadske TV journalist said.
Crimean Tatars have threatened an insurgency against a repeat of Russian rule. “Our people are peaceful, but if they threaten us, our men will defend the community,” an interviewee to the New York Times said.“It is better to die here than leave again.” Ukraine offers more security than Russia, Tartar representatives say. Some 5 million Tatars lived in Crimea prior to Russian annexation in the late 18th century; a figure which dwarfs Crimea’s current population. Tatar leaders have stated that the Crimean Tatar population will not take part in or recognize any separatist referendum.
Mass demonstrations against Russia were held across Ukraine, notably in its eastern regions. Cities included Kharkiv, Odessa (10,000), Sumy (12,000), Mykolayiv (10,000), Kherson (2,500), Poltava (‘thousands’), Kryvyi Rih (1,000) and Dnipropetrovsk (15,000). In contrast, the regional council of the far-eastern city of Luhansk announced it would not recognize the new central government and call for federalization, while Odessa officials also informed it would discuss the possibility of receiving greater autonomy.
March 3rd: Ultimatums
Early in the day Russians continued to seize and maintain control of strategic buildings, including ammunitions depots. Two explosions had been heard in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, with no official details yet available. A possible explanation may have been the use of stun grenades, which have been used in the capture of installations, including one in Belbek where Russians disarmed Ukrainian soldiers who were ordered not to fire first. Border guards were under pressure from Russian forces to switch sides, and Espreso.tv reported that in instances where soldiers were captured in Russian incursions, they were forced to renounce their oath and instead swear allegiance to the ‘Crimean people’. A Kyiv Post journalist, citing a local source, indicated that independent television channels were cut off, and the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism was occupied by unmarked soldiers, and that the Crimean government has threatened other mass media. Other reports indicated public sector employees, teachers in particular, were forced to attend pro-Russian rallies in Simferopol.
Media reports indicated Russia moved armored divisions across the Kerch Strait, taking control of the local ferry that connects transit between both countries. Local news refuted the existence of armored divisions, but provided video of Russian troops surrounding the ferry port. Ex-Admiral Denis Berezovsky, now wanted for treason, broke into the headquarters of the Naval Forces of Ukraine in Sevastopol with the aid of neo-Cossacks and demanded that the officers inside defect to Russia. Approximately 400 Russian irregulars aided by neo-Cossacks and reinforced by armed Russian soldiers in the rear were involved in the storming of the naval headquarters.
The vice speaker of Crimea, Sergei Tsekov, told Russian RIA news agency that officials in Odessa, Kherson, and Mykolayiv oblasts had declared their intent to join the Crimean Republic. The information could not be verified, but recall that mass demonstrations in opposition to separatism and Russian intervention in all three of these cities occurred the day prior. In Odessa, 500 Russian nationalists stormed the city council building, a far cry from the 10,000 who took to the streets the day before to protest against Russian expansion. The city council of Odessa made statements condemning separatism, and removed the Russian flag planted by activists earlier in the day. Outside, the Russian nationalists were met by 3,000 pro-European protesters.
“Attention comrades, you must surrender your weapons”
Alexander Vitko, commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces to surrender by 5am Tuesday or face a military assault. “If they do not surrender before 5 a.m. tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea,” Interfax quoted a Ministry of Defense source as saying. AP reported that four Russian warships cornered and demanded the crew of two Ukrainian warships, the corvette Ternopil and the control ship Slavutych, surrender by within hours or face seizure by the fleet. The Russian defense ministry denied the reports of an ultimatum, but reiterated its ‘right‘ to use force. However, Kyiv Post journalists on scene confirmed that the Russian vessels were yelling what appeared to be an ultimatum over loudspeaker. Ukrainian naval officer Alexei Kyrylov confirmed to Ukrainian media the ultimatum was in effect and that he expected an attack by the evening. By 8pm, attack helicopters and military aircraft were evacuated from the Novofedorivka air base and relocated in mainland Ukraine.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed to have evidence that unknown individuals, on the night of the ultimatum’s timeframe, are planning to murder 3-4 Russian soldiers under the guise of Ukrainian aggression. The motivation for this is to provide legal pretext for the introduction of troops into Ukraine, the ministry warned. Former top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Andrey Illarionov, also claimed that a group of Russian special forces troops had been deployed to Crimea to kill Russian troops and Russian citizens to provide justification for a full scale invasion, as had occurred during the August War in Georgia.
By the evening, Russia initiated an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation in Ukraine at 10:30pm Kyiv time. During the statement, Russian ambassador Churkin reiterated the Russian presence was there for peacekeeping purposes, and reiterated a fabricated statement by deposed president Viktor Yanukovych dated March 1st that “in the country there is chaos and anarchy,” the persecution of Russians is ongoing, anti-semitism, and that the nation was on the brink of civil war. The alleged statement from Yanukovych implored Russia to use its military to restore him to power. Jewish leaders in Crimea issued a statement backing the Kyiv government, and called talk of anti-semitism ‘exaggerated’.
“It is incredibly tense in Crimea right now, with ultimatums given to troops at almost all Ukrainian military bases here,”
Oleg Chubuk, a spokesman of Ukraine’s defense ministry, told the Kyiv Post.
While the deadline given for the ultimatum passed, journalists on the ground reported seeing missile batteries mounted on personnel carriers near Sevastopol, and other APCs headed north towards Simferopol. Soon after, the press secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin reported that he had ordered troops and formations that took part in military exercises, return to their places of permanent deployment. At the same time, journalists at Belbek reported in a series of tweets that Ukrainian troops from the military base, after receiving another ultimatum to surrender, marched on the Russian-occupied airstrip, unarmed and carrying only a pair of Ukrainian national and Soviet Air Force flags, to take it back. When the sides met, Russian troops began firing warning shots in the air, but to no avail the Ukrainians marched undeterred despite being surrounded by machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. They called their bluff, and the Russians then allowed a tentative compromise of 10 Ukrainian soldiers to take up positions on the occupied base and maintain their aircraft while they awaited orders and commanding officers faced off. During the negotiations, Ukrainian commander Colonel Yuli Mamchuk received word of Putin’s order to withdraw troops, and demanded to jointly guard the base with the Russian soldiers. In the standoff, Mamchuk vented “Because of one certain politician we are now at loggerheads. This is wrong.” Talks then suddenly fell apart and the troops, accompanied by their wives, marched under the threat of gunfire to their aircraft. The situation eventually subsided, with more Russian reinforcements arriving and the soldiers remaining defiant, who then marched back to their barracks.
This tense standoff was a microcosm of what was to come when president Putin held a press conference later in the afternoon. While stressing the values of democratic representation and the right to self determination in one direction, he lauded the legitimacy of Yanukovych and smeared the democratic movement in Kyiv in the other. When asked if Russian troops were currently active in Crimea, he held to the concocted story of the troops, who had been widely identified as Russian soldiers, as being ‘local self-defense units,’ and that anyone “can go to a store to buy any kind of uniform” in post-Soviet states. Putin also said that it was “a new state could appear” in Ukraine and said that Russia would “not sign any fundamental documents with this new state,” signaling that he considers Ukraine as a state to have formally dissolved, but still insisted the ‘new state’ pay for the ‘previous’ one’s debts. He referred to the democratic movement as anti-Semitic; a statement which was refuted by co-chairman of the European Jewish Parliament Vadim Rabinovich, while the chief rabbi of Ukraine accused Russia of of staging anti-Semitic provocations in order to justify intervention. “This is what the Nazis did during the Anshluss in Austria,” he said. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called Putin outright ‘delusional‘. By night, Russia test fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in a show of force (the test was previously scheduled, but not stated when).
In drawing tensions, Ukraine’s flagship vessel, the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny was reported en route to Sevastopol, returning after completing counter-piracy operations with NATO’s Operation Shield and European Union Naval Force, and accompanied by the Turkish pleasure craft Rusen Bey.
Invasion of mainland Ukraine?
The current number of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil is estimated to be between 6–28,000. Tyzhden reported a column of Russian troops is moving into Zaporizhia – other media outlets disputed these accounts. Russia’s Interior Ministry issued a statement on its website asking for Ukrainian police to support them. Spilno.TV, citing “a reliable source, who has personal connections with Russian army personnel,” Russian soldiers that are stationed in Crimea and Smolensk (Russia) were given maps of Kyiv and the greater Kyiv region.
Regional officials indicated on March 2nd that 10km from the Russian border in the northern Chernihiv region; Russian military movements were spotted, including tanks. According to the Ukrainian State Border Service, locals in Sumy indicated that Russian border guards had been interrogating Ukrainian travelers, and questioning the location of Ukrainian border guards and military positions. Interim president Turchynov later informed that a no-fly zone over the country had been initiated for military aircraft.
On Monday March 3rd, the State Border Service of Ukraine announced that Russian forces were accumulating, including artillery and armored carriers, along the country’s eastern borders in the Donbas region of Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kharkiv. Russian border services have also closed the border for Russian citizens traveling into Donetsk, while the governor of neighboring Rostov-on-Don ordered the setup of refugee camps. In response, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Yuri Sergeyev, suggested that “expanding military units and their equipment indicates that [Russia is] prepared to intervene in the mainland of Ukraine,” he said during a UN Security Council meeting in New York. Despite this, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said that Russian troops will not be allowed into the eastern regions of Ukraine. “I am convinced that no Russian military contingents will be allowed into [Ukraine’s] eastern regions,” he said.
The vice speaker of Crimea, Sergei Tsekov, proclaimed in a March 3rd interview that was widely disseminated in Russian state media, that officials in Odessa, Kherson, and Mykolayiv oblasts had declared their intent to join the so-called Crimean Republic. While unsupported, such statements could foreshadow future military expansion, should the republic declare independence or federation with Russia at month’s end.
In response to the unravelling situation, Vitali Klitschko petitioned acting president Turchynov to submit an application to the UN Security Council with regard to Russian aggression (the UNSC will meet at 9pm local time). Klitschko then insisted on holding a parliamentary session to void any treaties allowing Russia’s lease of Sevastopol and its harbor of the Black Sea Fleet. Turchynov in a separate move declared Aksenov’s appointment by the Crimean parliament to be constitutionally void.
The Ministry of Defense announced heightened combat readiness, “The armed forces stationed on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, are in high alert and ready to defend,” said defense minister Ihor Teniukh. He also said that military units remained in their home bases. He later stated that troops were at the highest level of readiness and morale remained high, and that they were ready to fulfill their constitutional duty.
The paramilitary Right Sector then announced a general mobilization of its forces and its intent to work in tangent with the Ukrainian government and armed forces. Later, the right-wing nationalist Svoboda party called for the introduction of martial law and the immediate mobilization forces, as well as calling on Ukrainians to defend their homeland, and ‘not give up a single shred of Ukrainian land to the invaders.
In a standoff between Russian marines and Ukrainian border guards in Balaklava, locals formed a human shield in an effort to prevent bloodshed.
“We are ready to defend our sovereignty. We believe that Russia will not resort to military intervention in Ukraine because such intervention will be the start of war and the end of any relationship with Russia”
– Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Near 10pm, president Turchynov announced that armed forces had been placed on full alert and that the nation’s defense council had developed a plan of action in case of direct military aggression. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also called on the U.S. and NATO to consider all possible means to protect the territorial integrity of the country. Turchynov said that Russia is engaged in numerous provocations designed to provoke a military engagement and destabilize the country. In a call between Turchynov and head of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of Russia, Sergei Narishkin, the latter informed of Russian readiness to implement military aggression against Ukraine in the event force is used “against peaceful citizens of Ukraine who reside in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.”
On early March 2nd, the three former presidents of Ukraine stood in unison to terminate the Kharkiv Accords which extended the lease of the Black Sea Fleet port to Russia. They noted that “for the first time in recent history the Ukrainian people are faced with a crisis that threatens the unity, sovereignty, and independence of our country, and this can turn into a national catastrophe that threatens the destruction of Ukraine.” They also urged the Security Service (SBU) to “instantly respond to any threats to split Ukraine.” In a fiery speech, Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk even said “I am 80 years old but I’ll take up a gun and defend your country.”
Prime Minister Yatsenyuk “If [Putin] wants to be the president who started the war between two neighboring and friendly countries, he has reached his target within a few inches. We are on the brink of disaster.” The Defense Ministry was later ordered to stage a call-up and mobilization of reserves, which theoretically could include a draft of all men up to 40 years old. Reservists were told to prepare for deployment. Dmytro Yarosh also called on Ukrainians to join Right Sector militia squads nationwide, and the establishment of a Right Sector military headquarters. On March 2nd, men from Kyiv flooded the city’s 10 district recruitment centers, and in instances over half were volunteers. Conscription fever grew over the course of the next 24 hours of mobilization, with thousands enlisting across the entire country – conscripts came throughout the day in Lviv, over 1,000 signed up in Lutsk and 4,000 in Chernihiv alone, and Polish Ukrainians enlisted at the embassy in Poland to defend their country.
Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Andriy Parubiy said in a statement on Sunday March the 2nd that Ukraine had appealed to the U.S. and U.K. “with a call to ensure the security of Ukraine” under the Budapest Memorandum.
Amid statements by Polish prime minister Donald Tusk that the world stands ‘on the brink of conflict’, witnesses noted columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and a massive rail transport of military equipment being transported in the area of Gorzow Wielkopolski and Slupsk. A spokesperson for the General Staff confirmed the movements, but dismissed them as being routine. On March 3rd, Poland invoked Article 4 meeting with NATO, which is used when a member feels that its security or territorial integrity is threatened.