10 Mar 2014

Bullets and potholes at the birth of Crimea’s new army

The red satin table cloths were a nice touch. They flapped in the icy cold wind, threatening to desert the four rickety wooden tables that had been placed along one side of the car park.

It might not have been the optimal venue for the birth of the new Crimean army, but I guess if you’re going to leave one country and join another in less than a month you have to get on with it as best you can. Anyway, it was history of a kind and we were about to witness it, alongside half a dozen parked white vans.

Sentimental Russian music wafted through the freezing air from two speakers on poles.

“Most of these songs have been composed in the last week,” said a cynical Russian journalist at my side.

We had queued up for some time outside the recruitment centre before men, in balaclavas and fatigues so new they still had creases from the packaging, allowed us in. I shivered.

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“Are you cold?” asked a balaclava’d face in perfect English as I hopped up and down outside the gate. I said I was but that didn’t mean he speeded up the process.

A man in jeans, ski-shades and a General de Gaulle-style kepi barked orders as if it were the journalists who were joining the military. When we tried to push forward, one of the balaclava brigade barred the way with a rifle.

Eventually we were allowed into the car park as a masked man entered carrying a Russian flag on a long pole. The blue was slightly too pale. Some 40 recruits, most with their faces covered, all carrying AK47s, lined up opposite the tables. Almost as many journalists took photos and filmed.

Then the new Crimean prime minister, Sergey Aksyonov, strode across the potholed concrete to cheers from the new recruits. Dressed only in a grey suit, sans balaclava, he must have been freezing but he did a good job of making a rousing speech nonetheless.

One by one the recruits appproached the tables and swore their oath of allegiance to the new Crimea. Their boots were so shiny they must have rubbed their toes, and none had the insignia of the new force sewn on their sleeves. These are the men who are supposed to replace Russian forces who have been patrolling the old Ukrainian military bases for the past two weeks.

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When Crimea formally becomes part of the Russian Federation, as it surely will after next Sunday’s referendum, they will be absorbed into the Russian army. Until then they are a “self-defence force” loyal to the Russian-backed Mr Aksyonov.

The proceedings, which lasted about half an hour, combined farce and menace. It was like watching a military recruitment ceremony in a distorting mirror, where nothing is quite what it seems. There is something unsettling about masked men, even if they’re swearing an oath to a previously non-existent force next to a grubby VW Combi.

As we were ushered out I looked back through the bars of the gate. The aqua blue and yellow of the Ukrainian sheild had been replaced with the Russian red, white and blue. Red paint, still wet, dripped and splattered down the grille. If I was feeling dramatic I’d say it looked like blood, but I suppose it’s always a bit messy if you rush a paint job.

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9 reader comments

  1. David says:

    Crimea used to be Russian until 1954
    Kiev used to be the Russian capital for almost 400 years.

    How much more diplomatic and democratic can Crimea and Russia be by allowing the people so vote for their own destiny in Sundays referendum?

    How can it be illegal when Crimea is an autonomous self-governing republic within Ukraine?
    Shouldn’t they “have their say”

    What does in have to do with America anyway?

    A cynic might think that this problem was orchestrated to potentially create an unsettled fuel crisis that only USA can solve.
    Their cola swigging, burger eating cavalry rides in again to save us. Or will we be saving them from another self-created economic disaster?

  2. Gerald Payne says:

    I have not read one of your posts for ages. I was sorry to return and find such a sarcastic style creeping into your work. So different from when you cover Obama, Camoron and all us western “good guys”. Still I guess there will be balance in a follow up piece.

  3. Philip Edwards says:

    Same old propaganda garbage from the same old glove puppet/mouthpiece.

    Unfortunately for you, and fortunately for those who seek the truth, there are plenty of other sources of information.

    People like you count less and less in the overall picture.

    That’s the beauty of the internet.

  4. David says:

    Hi Lindsey – just wanted to say I’m a huge fan of CH4 news. I Watch every night. Your reports from Ukraine are brilliant and refreshing. You manage to be combine factually accurate reports with a slight ‘tongue in cheek’ humour brilliantly . I look forward to seeing your reports every night. Keep safe and continue the great work!!
    David
    Ballymena
    UK

  5. dermot cooper says:

    Lindsey
    What is happening! I expect Ch4 reporting to be vaguely left-wing, not to parrot the outpourings of the Tories and the US admin. Crimea is a complex issue; it could be seen as quite analogous to Serbia and Kosova; it has had an intimate association with Russia forever. Your condescending report this evening must have delighted Hague and the club. Come on, at the very least you could cite the UK justification for holding on to Gibraltar, the Falklands – and Northern Ireland – viz the majority wanted it – as a justification for the Crimea to separate itself from the rest of the Ukraine. An extremely disappointed viewer; what are my options now. And am I to find your reporting of Syria etc credible or just highly selective………

    Dermot Cooper

  6. Dean says:

    Those are not AK-47s. They appear to be AK-74s or AK-74Ms.

  7. michael lynch says:

    They look like what they are, Russian thugs..

  8. Bosc says:

    I have family in the Ukraine and I live there few months a year for the last 15 years .
    People are very concerned about the rise of fascist organisations ( Pravy Sektor , Svoboda ) . I personally prefer to live with the russians than the fascists .

    1. David says:

      I agree with you Bosc, the rise of Neo-Nazi fascism is intolerable.
      I was born in the UK and have lived here for almost 70 years. My father and grandfather were both prisoners of war in Germany.
      My father was proud that he endured the problems in 1942 – 1945 (interred for 3 years) . He always said that he “put up” with it so we could live in a free world…
      My father would turn in his grave if he knew that UK was now supporting Fascism. But of course if you have family in Eastern Europe you will know that both Estonia and to a lesser degree Latvia are also Fascist countries within the EU.

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