Why the trouble in Ukraine has only just begun
The troops patrolling the Simferopol airport car park were pretty relaxed. Every now and then they strolled through the forest of tripods to make sure that they got on the telly. Some stood in front of the airport terminal, combat weapons at their side. They wore no insignia but their camouflage bore a distinct resemblance to the new Russian army field uniform.
When I asked if they were Russian they said nothing, but I could swear that I saw their eyes smiling thru the gap in their balaclavas. This was a disciplined, well trained conventional army unit, not a self-defence militia.
A few heavies of the type we’ve seen on pro-Russian demos in recent days were hanging around the airport car park wearing orange and black striped ribbons, the symbol of the defence of Ukraine from the Nazis in WW11. When I asked one of the more friendly of their number if their soldier friends were Russian nationals, he said: “I haven’t checked their passports.”
Nothing in Crimea is happening by chance. Yesterday before dawn armed men seized the parliament building in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag. This morning soldiers took over the airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol. Ousted President Yanukovich is due to give a press conference this afternoon from the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. President Putin put out a statement this morning to say he would cooperate with the EU and USA over urkisne’s economic problems and was considering “humanitarian aid” to Crimea.
So I guess these soldiers, and the eight helicopters that landed at the airport in Sevastopol are going to distribute food parcels.
All of this is designed to pressure the new authorities in Kiev. If they do nothing, it proves that they do not control all of Ukraine. If they react, then they’re in direct confrontation with Russia. It’s an unenviable situation for a new government which is unelected, the product of a slightly ramshackle sort of revolution which has just discovered that they have no money to meet their debts. The Ukrainian currency is losing value daily and there’s fear of a run on the banks.
President Putin has frequently proved himself adept at extracting advantage for Russia from complex situations where his allies are under pressure – witness his fast footwork on getting President Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. It gave the Syrian government legitimacy and meant that western powers had to deal with the man whose overthrow they had been calling for.
The moves in Crimea are ratcheting up pressure on the new authorities in Kiev. They might like to think they have the option of turning their back on Russia and looking exclusively west towards Europe. They don’t. The Crimean parliament voted yesterday for a referendum on whether to stay in a Ukraine or join Russia. The Kosovars split off from Serbia with European and US approval, so what’s so different about Crimea?
Anyone who thought Ukraine’s revolution was over had not bargained on President Putin‘s determination. The trouble here has only just begun.
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