Vladimir Putin mobilized more than 150,000 troops and an armada of ships yesterday for a drill to test the combat readiness of forces in western Russia as tensions over Ukraine continue to grow.
In addition to the soldiers – nearly twice the British Army’s manpower after planned cuts – 880 tanks, 210 aircraft and 80 warships will take part in the operation.
The manoeuvres raised fears that the Russian president may be planning to send forces into Ukraine after the toppling of its Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
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Violence: Protesters clashed in Simferopol, Ukraine (left) as Vladimir Putin (right) mobilised troops in Russia
The might of the Red Army: Just a fifth of Russia's forces are considerably bigger than Britain's whole arsenal
Clashes: Fist fights broke out today between pro- and anti-Russian protesters in the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. In response Russia has reportedly ordered an immediate test of 150,000 troops
Punch-up: Muslim Tatars, who rallied in support of Ukraine's interim government, clash with a police officer in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea. They came up against pro-Russian protesters
Injuries: A pro-Russian demonstrator is taken away by medics after the scuffles in Simferopol, Ukraine
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said unspecified measures were also being taken to protect the country’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea, southern Ukraine.
He claimed the operation was not linked to the crisis in Ukraine, insisting it was intended to ‘check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security’.
The drill comes 48 hours after Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the country’s interests and citizens in Ukraine were under threat in language that echoed his statements justifying Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 when he was president. The US and EU nations have warned Russia against military intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that Mr Putin wants to be part of a Eurasian union he is creating. The crisis began three months ago after Mr Yanukovych ditched closer ties with the EU in favour of Mr Putin’s scheme.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who is overseeing the reduction of the Army to around half the size of the Russian mobilisation, said yesterday: ‘We will obviously want to take proper cognizance of any activities by Russian forces. We urge all parties to allow the Ukrainian people to settle internal differences and determine their future without external interference.’
He was speaking as Nato defence ministers, meeting in Brussels, issued a statement ahead of a two-day summit supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. US secretary of state John Kerry said Russia should respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and be ‘very careful’ in its behaviour.
Trampled: A man receives help after he was injured in a stampede during clashes in Crimea, Ukraine
Tension: Several people were injured as east-west tensions flared in Crimea, which is vital to the Russian Navy
Clash: Pro-Russian protesters (left) stand opposite Crimean Tartars, who support the new regime in Ukraine
Crimea is strategically vital to Vladimir Putin's Russia because it juts into the Black Sea. Pictured: Tartars
Dressed for war: A pro-Russian demonstrator holds the Russian flag during the protests in Ukraine
More violence broke out today between pro-Russian demonstrators and supporters of the new government in the eastern peninsula of Crimea
In a TV interview, he added: ‘What we need now to do is not get into an old Cold War confrontation.’
Mr Shoigu said the Russian tests will be conducted in two stages.
At first, military units will be brought to ‘the highest degree of combat readiness’ and deployed to land and sea positions.
The second stage will include tactical exercises involving warships from the northern and Baltic fleets, while some warplanes will move to combat airfields. Mr Shoigu said the forces must ‘be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds’.
The change of government in Kiev has raised questions over the future of Russia’s naval bases in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, the lease for which was extended until 2042 by Mr Yanukovych. Most observers believe the new leadership will not push for the withdrawal of the Russian fleet, as this could create further tensions.
Yesterday, thousands of protesters took part in rival rallies in Crimea’s administrative capital Simferopol ahead of a planned session of the region’s parliament.
Fights broke out between pro-Russians and more than 10,000 Muslim Tatars who rallied in support of the interim government, chanting: ‘Ukraine is not Russia!’
Blows were exchanged by groups arguing over the future of their country as Putin readies his troops
Pro-Russian activists have clashed with demonstrators backing Ukraine's new government in Crimea
Ukraine could divide into two separate countries as the West seeks new leadership and closer ties with Europe, while the East affiliates itself with Russia
Waiting for history: 500 miles removed from the clashes in Crimea, tens of thousands of people waited in Kiev's Independence Square to hear former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk nominated as their new leader
Shift: The new Ukranian cabinet (announced in Kiev, pictured) will be pro-Western after months of protests which demanded the government prevent itself sliding under the grip of Russian influence. Tensions remain
Protest: Ukrainians in Kiev last night as a new government was announced after months of violence
Tribute: Citizens lay flowers and candles where protesters were killed in a clash with riot police in Kiev
The tensions in Crimea highlight the divisions that run through the nation of 46million, and underscore fears that the country’s mainly Russian-speaking east and south will not recognize the interim authority’s legitimacy.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev have joined the Tatars in an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.
Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchinov has expressed concern about the ‘serious threat’ of separatism following the ousting of Mr Yanukovych, who was last night put on the international wanted list, accused of being behind the killing of more than 100 protesters by riot police last week.
Russia has portrayed the overthrow of Mr Yanukovych, whose whereabouts are unknown after he fled on Thursday, as a violent seizure of power, while many EU countries back the regime change.
Pro-Ukraine protest groups last night named their proposed cabinet for the interim government. MPs were expected to vote on the nominations today.
Russian flags can be seen in the background as demonstrators clash with those carrying the Ukrainian and Tartar flag in the foreground
The news of further clashes underscores the difficulties facing Ukraine as the pro-European West divides from the Russian East
Yesterday Crimean citizens cheered as riot police from the pro-Russian Berkut brigade fled there, while in the West other were forced to knee on a stage and beg for forgiveness
During a meeting in Kiev today, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was seen for the first time without her wheelchair as she shook hands with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns
The 'Euromaidan' council of protest leaders made its announcement of Yatseniuk, plus candidates for several other key ministers, after its members addressed crowds on Kiev's Independence Square.
Oleksander Turchinov said the new government would have to take unpopular decisions to head off defaulting on its debts and to guarantee a normal life for Ukraine's people.
The Euromaidan's proposals have yet to be approved by parliament.
The council also named career diplomat Andriy Deshchytsya as foreign minister.
Oleksander Shlapak, a former economy minister and former deputy head of the central bank, was named as finance minister.
Andriy Paruby, head of the 'self-defence' force protecting the Kiev protest zone from police action during the three months of conflict, was named secretary of the powerful National Security and Defence Council.
Crimean Tartars were expelled from their homes by Russia during the Second World War and so have a history of bad feeling towards the Kremlin
However Crimea has very close ties with Russia and houses the nation's Black Sea Fleet
Police had attempted to keep the two group apart but they were unable to stop the fighting
Earlier today, John Kerry and William Hague urged Ukraine to stay unified while asking Russia to allow the country to make its own choices about its future
There are fears within the international community that Russian president Putin (pictured here with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych) could send troops to the country in an attempt to quash the uprising
Crimean Tartars have an historic grudge with Russia, so support the new revolution sweeping the nation
John Kerry also urged Russia and other nations to ensure the revolution was '100 per cent' peaceful from now on after nearly 100 people died in clashes
AFTER SNIPERS AND PETROL BOMBS, THE NEW THREAT TO THE PEOPLE UKRAINE IS FINANCIAL COLLAPSE
Ukraine has just emerged from a bloody revolution, but its problem have only just begun
As tensions flare between the East and West of Ukraine, and politicians scramble to from a government, a new threat to Ukraine's future has emerged.
The country faces financial collapse as international loans dry up.
The interim president Olexander Turchynov has appealed for £20billion from foreign nations in order to stop the country going bankrupt.
And now concerned citizens are withdrawing money from their bank accounts en masse, worried that they will lose everything if the nation goes bust.
In just two days from February 18, around £1.8bn was withdrawn from bank accounts across the country.
After an agreement to sign a deal introducing a new interim government withdrawals slowed down in the West, but remain high in the East where tensions over Russia's relationship with the country remain high.
The interim government is now considering measure to limit cash withdrawals to stop the banks going into meltdown.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Lilit Gevorgyan, senior economist at IHS Global Insight in London, said: 'Ukraine’s economy needs rescue and that adds pressure on the revolutionary political forces to create a truly national unity government.
'The large bailout plan that Ukraine currently seeks won’t be handed out by international donors to a weak and non-inclusive government.'
Ukraine's new leader has made a desperate plea for unity as experts warn Russia might annex the increasingly tense region of Crimea.
Interim president Olexander Turchynov warned of the dangers of separatism following the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. It came as UK and US foreign ministers met to discuss emergency financial assistance for the country.
Addressing the country's parliament, Mr Turchynov said he would meet law enforcement agencies to discuss the risk of separatism in regions with large ethnic Russian populations.
Separatism was a 'serious threat', he said.
Plea: Interim President Olexander Turchynov warned of the dangers of separatism in the Ukrainian parliament today
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, chaired a security council meeting in the Kremlin today, attended by among others the foreign secretary, Sergey Lavrov (second from left). Its conclusions were not made public but tensions between Moscow and Kiev have mounted amid claims of Russian involvement in the killings of protesters whose demonstrations led to the removal of Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Moscow.
Political heavyweight: Ukrainian opposition leader and head of the UDAR (Punch) party Vitaly Klitschko has revealed he will run for the presidentcy
Mr Turchynov was speaking as tensions mounted between Kiev and Moscow in the wake of former president Vyktor Yanukoych being removed from power and fleeing the Ukrainian capital.
In the latest escalation, Ukraine's parliament called for the former president to be put in front of the International Criminal Court at the Hague for 'human rights abuses', including ordering the deaths of protesters in Kiev who eventually prompted him to flee and be deposed.
One MP claimed there was a 'smoking gun' which linked the deaths of the protesters directly to the Kremlin, with a former Russian intelligence officer helping direct operations which lead to the death of more than 80 demonstrators.
The MP, Hennadiy Moskal, a former deputy interior minister, said he had found the evidence at the interior ministry and in files at the SBU, the secret police in the country.
'The Interior Ministry and the SBU were assisted in the preparations for these special operations by the former deputy head of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate who lived in the Kiev hotel (his accommodation and meals were paid for by the SBU)," said Moskal.
"All the information regarding this Russian will be handed over to the PGO, [the Hague court's prosecutor general's office] and the investigation will reveal the extent of his guilt."
The suggestion of Russian involvement in the deaths will only increase tensions - particularly over the Crimea, the majority-Russian area where the Kremlin's Black Sea naval fleet is based, and where it is thought Yanukoych is in hiding. In Sevastapol, the home port of the Russian fleet, the local mayor was forced to quit after removing a Russian flag, and replaced by Aleksei Chaliy, a pro-Moscow politician after a meeting at which people shouted 'Russia, Russia' and: 'A Russian mayor for a Russian city.'
There are widespread fears in Ukraine that Russia will move to annex the Crimea, which was added to the then Soviet republic of Ukraine in 1954 and where Ukrainians are in a minority.
Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of the Moscow parliament used a visit to the Crimea to say that Russia will protect its compatriots there if their lives are in danger.
Slutsky, speaking at a meeting with local activists, did not detail what that might involve, but a former Kremlin advisor warned a Russian annexation of Sebastopol could happen within a week.
Likening the situation to Nazi Germany’s takeover of Austria, Andrey Illarionov said a furious Russian president Vladimir Putin is sweeping aside Western warnings and putting troops on alert.
A Russian flag is seen flying outside the state and city administration building in the Crimean city of Sevastopol
Ukrainian sailors march at the memorial to heroic defenders of Sevastopol in 1941-1942, in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol
Unrest: Dozens of demonstrators calling for closer ties with Russia in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol
RUSSIA EVOKES WORLD WAR TWO IN UKRAINE MEDIA BLITZ
'Which side were you on in World War Two?' is not a question that often arises on radio talk shows but a Russian caller named Alexander was asked precisely that at least three times today when he expressed support for Ukraine's new rulers.
The judgment was quick. Two Russian presenters decided Alexander must have been on the side of the fascists who fought Soviet forces during the war because he refused to condemn the new Ukrainian leadership.
'Do you know how many Russians Bandera killed?' asked the outspoken host of the morning phone-in, Vladimir Solovyov - a reference to Stepan Bandera, leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that was built in western Ukraine and is accused by Russians of siding with the Nazis.
On Russian television, weeks of footage of wounded policemen and burning tyres have given way to sober pictures of politicians and Ukrainians predicting Ukraine will split after opposition forces took control in Kiev and the president fled.
In a sign the Kremlin is shaken by losing a struggle for influence with the West in its neighbour, the language has been set against the us-or-them background of the Soviet victory against Adolf Hitler - a source of national pride.
The people of western Ukraine - culturally and linguistically distinct from the Russian speaking east - have borne the brunt of the blame.
It was these men and women that Alexander was trying to defend. He was cut off when Solovyov said he should leave his address and phone number so the police could find him and arrest him for promoting fascism.
It came amid unconfirmed claims that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was under Russian military guard in Sebastopol, after a warrant was issued for his arrest for 'mass murder'.
And ominously, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned it did not recognise the authorities which came to power in Kiev’s weekend revolution in which 82 people died.
He said: 'We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens.'
Kiev believes Russian president Vladimir Putin - enraged by the ousting of Moscow-backed Yanukovych - is already putting armed forces on alert.
Former Kremlin economics advisor Andrey Illarionov warned that a furious Putin is sweeping aside Western warnings and preparing a 'Russian Anschluss of Sevastopol which is due to happen in a week, maximum three weeks.'
Illarionov previously warned about plans being hatched in Moscow to seek a partition of Ukraine.
He said at the beginning of this month that Kremlin thinking had coalesced around 'getting control of Crimea, Lugansk and maybe part of Sumy region, in other words of the places where Russian popularity dominates.'
Illarionov predicted three weeks ago: 'It is known that Putin does not consider Ukraine to be a state.
'Many in the Kremlin are calling it sub-state. From their point of view, Ukraine will never again be so weak in front of Russia.
'And Russia will never again be so strong, as it is today. And the West - the EU and USA - will never be so indifferent to Ukrainian crisis as they are today.’
Putin has previously cited a duty to protect the lives of its citizens as justification for military intervention in Georgia in 2008.
The reaction of Putin, who has so far been silent on the issue, is seen as crucial to how the situation will develop.
Today, he attended a Security Council meeting in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow that focused on the situation in Ukraine.
William Hague is also due to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
And NATO defence ministers will meet a delegation from Ukraine on Thursday to discuss their response, a NATO official said.
Russia has already been warned by Nato not to use its troops in Crimea, or bring in others to intervene in its neighbour's domestic upheaval.
The last week's developments in Ukraine are to be discussed at a meeting of Nato defence ministers, which starts tomorrow in Brussels.
Ukraine has longstanding ties with the military alliance under the NATO-Ukraine Commission and is a contributor to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
A NATO official, who asked not to be named, said that the commission will meet on the second day of a NATO defence ministers gathering.
'Ministers agreed to a Ukrainian request for a meeting,' the official said. 'It will be an exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine and relations between NATO and Ukraine.'
Maidan self-defence activists stand guard at the Ukraine parliament during the session in Kiev
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 25: Protesters guard the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov is due to form a unity government, as UK and U.S. foreign ministers meet to discuss emergency financial assistance for the country
Mob justice: Anti-Yanukovych protesters detain a suspected thief in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest
Members of 'self defence' units march to the parliament building in Kiev
Anti-Yanukovych protesters protect the main doors of the central Post Office occupied by demonstrators in Kiev's Independence Square
An opposition protester protects the entrance of a shop occupied by demonstrators still camped out on Kiev's Independence Square
Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial at barricades near the Dynamo Kiev stadium in central Kiev
Former Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (right) welcomes to the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton prior their talks in Kiev today
InUkraine itself, champion boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko said he would run in a planned election.
Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has already confirmed she will stand.
She met Baroness Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs representative today, although questions remain over her record as prime minister, a time which was tainted with corruption.
And also in Ukraine Andriy Klyuev, a former presidential aide who is said by the new Ukrainian authorities to be on the run with Yanukovich, has been shot in the leg, his spokesman said.
Spokesman Artem Petrenko said a 'trusted source' had told him that Klyuev, the head of the presidential administration until Yanukovich was toppled on Saturday, had come under fire twice and was wounded, but his life was not in danger.
Petrenko said by telephone that he had not spoken to Klyuev himself and he did not know where Klyuev was. He also said he did not know whether Klyuev was with Yanukovich, who fled Kiev on Friday and is wanted by the Ukrainian authorities to face accusations of murder.
Ukraine's parliament voted today to send Yanukovich to be tried for 'serious crimes' by the International Criminal Court once he has been captured.
A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovich to police violence against protesters which had caused the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states and injured 2,000.
Relationship: Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych winks at Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting last year. Yanukovych is said to be under Russian military guard after he was ousted from power
Armed presence: Ukrainian sailors march in the Black Sea port of Sebastopol. Ousted President Yanukovych is said to be under Russian Military Guard in the area
Political crisis: Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned it did not recognise the authorities which came to power in Kiev
RUSSIA'S BLACK SEA FIREPOWER
Russia's Black Sea fleet was founded by Prince Potemkin, together with its principal base, the city of Sevastopol, in 1783 to counter the threat from the Ottoman Empire.
Today, the fleet employs more than 25,000 people in Sevastopol and has widespread support among locals.
From 1783 to the present day it has been home to 1,468 warships, including:
- 6 Dreadnoughts
- 10 Battleships
- 26 Cruisers
- 15 Large ASW Destroyers
- 3 Leaders
- 85 Destroyers
- 45 Frigates
- 134 Submarines
The Ukrainian parliamentalso delayed the formation of a new government, reflecting political tensions and economic challenges following the ousting of the Russia-backed president.
Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, who was named Ukraine's interim leader after Yanukovych fled the capital, said that a new government should be in place by Thursday, instead of Tuesday, as he had earlier indicated.
Turchinov is now nominally in charge - but the country of 46 million has an ailing economy and faces the risk of default. Mr Hague and Mr Kerry are to talk about an aid package to keep it from imminent collapse.
Law enforcement agencies have issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych over the killing of 82 people, mainly protesters - the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history - that precipitated him fleeing the capital on Friday after signing a deal with opposition leaders to end months of violent clashes between protesters and police.
For months, thousands of people have been protesting against Yanukovych's decision to ditch an agreement for closer ties with the European Union and turn to Russia instead.
Major power: Russia's Black Sea Fleet warships at its base in Sevastopol in Ukraine
Sailors check a missile launcher aboard Russian cruiser Admiral Golovko in Sevastopol
The Zaporizhia diesel submarine is seen after it was launched at Sevastopol, Ukraine. This was the only sub Ukraine got after it divided the former Soviet Black Sea fleet with Russia
The parliament sacked some of Yanukovych's lieutenants and named their replacement, but it has yet to appoint the new premier and fill all remaining government posts. Yanukovych's whereabouts are unknown. He was last reportedly seen in the Crimea, a pro-Russia area.
Protesters, meanwhile, removed a Soviet star from the top of the Ukrainian parliament building, the Verkhovna Rada. 'The star on top of the Verkhovna Rada is no longer there,' said Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the nationalist Svoboda party, which has been a strong force in the protest movement.
A REGION WORTH FIGHTING FOR? WHY RUSSIA COVETS THE CRIMEA
Flashpoint: A picture of soldiers during the Crimean War, circa 1855
Crimea is a region synonymous with military glory for Russians, imperial and Soviet.
Catherine the Great first annexed the region in 1783 after defeating the Ottoman Turks and built a naval base and the city Sevastopol. The Russian Black Sea fleet has been there ever since.
What Crimea is best remembered for in the West is the Crimean War of the 1850s. The conflict was initially between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire but drew in Britain and France.
It ended with the Treaty of London of 1856.
The region only became part of Ukraine in 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was himself Ukrainian-born, signed it over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from Russia. Pro-Kremlin campaigners call this a 'historical accident'.
Ethnic, cultural and religious ties are also very Russian, leading some pro-Kremlin Crimeans to freely admit they would like Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
Currently, there are two million ethnic Russians who live on the peninsula, making up almost 60 per cent of the population.
Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars – the peninsula's original Turkic-speaking Muslim inhabitants – account for the rest.
But it has not always been that way.
By 1900 Crimean Tatars, previously the major population, had been reduced to half of residents. After the Soviet revolution they were reduced to a quarter.
The Crimea has remained a stable feature of geopolitics for over a century and a half
Then Stalin forcibly deported many of them to Central Asia and replaced them with Slavs from Russia or Russian-influenced parts of eastern Ukraine.
As a result Crimea was largely 'russified' over the two centuries after its incorporation into the Russian Empire and its indigenous Muslim population swamped or displaced.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Tatars remained or have returned, but they are still a minority numbering about 15 per cent of the population.
They reject the notion of union with Russia and are loyal to Kiev – another volatile element in an already combustible ethnic mix.
Most of Stalin's newcomers were from poor urban backgrounds; they moved into homes vacated by deportees and had weak ties with Ukraine.
They freely admit they would like Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
'It's a myth that Ukraine is not part of Russia. We don't believe it,' Oleg Rodilov, a pro-Russian MP in Crimea's autonomous parliament said in 2008.
It would be wrong to accuse him of 'separatism', he added. 'For you, Ukraine and Russia are a priori different states. For us they are a priori the same,' he said.
The links of culture, language and Orthodox religion made Ukraine and Russia an indivisible entity, he said. Also, both countries were Slavic, he said. 'We don't believe there is any difference. We have been together for 350 years.'
Ukraine's recent civil conflict has fanned this tension in Crimea.
Putin’s Ukrainian dilemma: the port at Sevastopol
The Ukrainian port, currently leased to Russia, is the heart of Russia's activity throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin.
Russian Navy boats at Sevastopol Photo by Reuters
Artillery Bay in Sevastopol.Photo by Wikimedia Commons
There are several reasons to fear that if the crisis in Ukraine is not resolved diplomatically to Russia's satisfaction, Ukraine's neighbor will intervene - and some of the reasons also have to do with Syria.
Russia maintains an enormous military port in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s mighty Black Sea Fleet. Until 1954, the port was in Russian territory, but then it was transferred to Ukraine for administrative reasons. Apparently, the Soviet leadership believed that the Soviet Union was immortal and internal administrative borders would be politically meaningless.
It became a diplomatic problem with the breakup of the Soviet Union, but a solution was found: Since 1991, the Sevastopol port has been leased to Russia, comparable to the control the Americans have of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Russia has another port in its territory in Novorosisk, but it is a civilian port that cannot serve as a substitute for a military port.
The Russian superpower has always had a serious strategic problem: how to ensure access in winter to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. The Sevastopol port currently serves as the Russian end of the military route to the warm waters. The straits that pass through Turkey – the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles – are the continuation of the route.
What does this have to do with Syria?
For many years, Syria’s Tartus port has served as a “safe harbor” for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean. In May 2013, as part of Russia’s new strategic deployment in the wake of the rebellion against President Bashar Assad’s regime, Russia established a “Mediterranean Naval Command.” Tartus is now the safe harbor for the new fleet, which comprises 11 warships: aircraft carriers, submarine combat ships, escort ships and a missile destroyer. This new fleet is an extension of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and under its command.
All Russian activity in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean is currently dependent upon the Sevastopol port in Ukraine. However, it is through the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia that Russia is transferring increasingly large arms shipments to Assad’s army and safeguarding its interests in Damascus.
And with America’s recent wariness of Egypt, contacts are being pursued between Moscow and Cairo for a $2 billion arms deal that would be financed by Saudi Arabia. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Sevastopol port is indirectly the key to Syria and perhaps to Egypt and the entire Mediterranean in the future.
How to explain the American restraint – it could even be called passivity – regarding the events in Ukraine? Could American and European pressure cause Putin to give up Sevastopol? There is no way this could happen – first, because Putin cannot allow his government to suffer such a serious strategic blow and, second, because in 1994, in Budapest, the United States and Russia signed a “security guarantee memorandum,” which said that in return for giving up the Soviet-era nuclear weapons in its possession and joining the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), Ukraine received an American and Russian guarantee of its territorial wholeness.
For America, the gain was in removing Ukraine from the nuclear equation, a major success for the NPT, and the destruction of a large number of nuclear weapons, remnants of the Soviet era. For Russia, the gain was in keeping Ukraine as a buffer between Russia and Europe and maintaining the status quo in Sevastopol. Ukraine did give up the nuclear weapons that were left in its territory, and it signed the NPT. Russia thereby won American approval to freeze the strategic situation as is, including the continued use of the Sevastopol port as a base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
If Ukraine splits into East and West, or moves into the Western sphere of influence, Russia will likely view it as a violation of the 1994 convention. If Ukraine degenerates into chaos, Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol will be in danger. If that happens, Putin may have an interest in seeing Ukraine split, for he will have no choice but to seize control somehow – perhaps with the services of a loyal Ukrainian politician – of Sevastopol and the surrounding area, or even of Eastern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula where it is situated.
President Obama will have no choice but to go along with Russia’s seizing control. Obama will be able to justify the American passivity by citing commitment to agreements, but he will also have in mind the partial but very successful cooperation with Putin on Syria and Iran.
In Obama’s view, the success of the nuclear talks with Iran, the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons and a governmental compromise in Damascus, even a defeat of the radical Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq, all depend on cooperation with Putin. A crisis in Ukraine will undermine this. Obama has already ceded America’s status as the lone global superpower, and cooperation with Putin is part of the multi-polar world in which he believes.
From Putin’s point of view, a military invasion would be a last resort: Ukraine is not Georgia and the political and economic cost would be tremendous. Putin is happy to taunt Obama at every opportunity, but he still has no wish to really push America into a corner. Therefore, he is apparently already demanding that his advisers come up with creative solutions for avoiding an invasion while safeguarding Russian interests in Ukraine. These are interests he will not sacrifice, no matter what.
Ukraine is far more important to Russia than it is to the US or EU. If the situation in Ukraine spirals out of control and right-wing extremists seize control, Russian intervention is certain. The arrogant and stupid Obama regime has carelessly and recklessly created a direct strategic threat to the existence of Russia.
According to the Moscow Times, this is what a senior Russian official has to say: “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war.” Ukraine “will lose Crimera first,” because Russia “will go in just as we did in Georgia.” Another Russian official said: “ We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family. They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”
The Ukrainian right-wing is in a stronger position than Washington’s paid Ukrainian puppets, essentially weak and irrelevant persons who sold out their country for Washington’s money. The Right Sector is organized. It is armed. It is indigenous. It is not dependent on money funneled in from Washington and EU financed NGOs. It has an ideology, and it is focused. The Right Sector doesn’t have to pay its protesters to take to the streets like Washington had to do.
Most importantly, well-meaning but stupid protesters–especially the Kiev students–and an Ukrainian parliament playing to the protesters destroyed Ukrainian democracy. The opposition controlled parliament removed an elected president from office without an election, an obvious illegal and undemocratic action.
The opposition controlled parliament issued illegal arrest warrants for members of the president’s government. The opposition controlled parliament illegally released criminals from prison. As the opposition has created a regime of illegality in place of law and constitutional procedures, the field is wide open for the Right Sector. Expect everything the opposition did to Yanukovich to be done to them by the Right Sector. By their own illegal and unconstitutional actions, the opposition has set the precedent for their own demise.
Just as the February 1917 revolution against the Russian Tsar set the stage for the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, surprising the stupid “reformers,” the overthrow of the Ukrainian political order has set the stage for the Right Sector. We can only hope that the Right Sector blows its chance.
The American media is a useless news source. It serves as a Ministry for Government Lies. The corrupt propagandists are portraying the undemocratic removal of Yanukovich as a victory for freedom and democracy. When it begins to leak out that everything has gone wrong, the presstitutes will blame it all on Russia and Putin. The Western media is a plague upon humanity.
Americans have no idea that the neoconservative regime of the White House Fool is leading them into a Great Power Confrontation that could end in destruction of life on earth.
This week was marked by protests around the world. Anti-government protesters guard the perimeter of Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between police and anti-government protesters, who are calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union.
Thai farmers battle with soldiers as they protest the government’s repeatedly delayed payments for rice submitted to the pledging scheme at the government’s temporary office in Bangkok on February 17, 2014. Thai opposition demonstrators besieged government offices on February 17, including a compound that has been used as a temporary headquarters by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in defiance of authorities who have vowed to reclaim key state buildings.
Anti-government protesters guard the perimeter of Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between police and anti-government protesters, who are calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) #
Filipino firemen take a rest after controlling a fire in Manila, Philippines on Sunday Feb. 16, 2014. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire that gutted a bank and several establishments in Manila's Ermita district. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) #
Olga Gharkova bathes in a hot pot at the British Banya bathhouse, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. "The most important thing about the banya is to have a good spirit in the body," says bathhouse master Ivan Tkach. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) #
An anti-government protester holds a firearm as he mans a barricade on the outskirts of Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Fierce clashes between police and protesters, some including gunfire, shattered a brief truce in Ukraine's besieged capital Thursday, killing numerous people. The deaths came in a new eruption of violence just hours after the country's embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine's political crisis. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic) #
An anti-government protester is engulfed in flames during clashes with riot police outside Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Thousands of angry anti-government protesters clashed with police in a new eruption of violence following new maneuvering by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) #
An artist paints the portrait of an anti-government protester wearing a full military outfit on a barricade in Kiev, on February 16, 2014. Ukraine's political situation has been volatile since a massive protest movement erupted in November when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a key EU trade pact in favour of closer ties with Russia, angering pro-EU parts of the population. The movement has since evolved into an outright drive to oust Yanukovych, while protesters still occupy Kiev's central Independence square. MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images #
An Afghan popcorn vendor works inside his shop in Kabul on February 18, 2014. Some nine million Afghans or 36 percent of the population are living in "absolute poverty" while another 37 percent live barely above the poverty line, according to a UN report. AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR #
Switzerland's Mischa Gasser takes a warm up jump before the Men's Freestyle Skiing Aerials qualifications at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO #
Anti-government demonstrators stand on barricades during clashes with riot police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko on February 18 urged women and children to leave the opposition's main protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, known as Maidan, as riot police massed nearby. "We ask women and children to quit Maidan as we cannot rule out the possibility that they will storm (the camp)," the former heavyweight boxing champion told protestors on the square. AFP PHOTO / SANDRO MADDALENA #
Children peep from behind a curtain next to Jewish ultra-orthodox bride Rivka Hannah (Hofman) during the Mitzvah Tans dance ritual following her wedding in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on February 18, 2014. During the Mitzvah Tans dance ritual the bride will dance with members of the community, family and with her groom at the end of the wedding ceremony. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA #
A protester stands behind barricades during clashes with police on February 20, 2014 in Kiev. Ukraine's embattled leader announced a "truce" with the opposition as he prepared to get grilled by visiting EU diplomats over clashes that killed 26 and left the government facing diplomatic isolation. The shocking scale of the violence three months into the crisis brought expressions of grave concern from the West and condemnation of an "attempted coup" by the Kremlin. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC #
Protesters advance to new positions in Kiev on February 20, 2014. Top officials were evacuated on Thursday from Ukraine's main government building close to clashes in the heart of Kiev that AFP reporters said left at least 17 protesters dead with apparent gun shot wounds. "This morning, all cabinet employees were evacuated from the building. These were official orders," a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian government told AFP. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images #
Protesters advance towards new positions in Kiev on February 20, 2014. Armed protesters stormed police barricades in Kiev on Thursday in renewed violence that killed at least 26 people and shattered an hours-old truce as EU envoys held crisis talks with Ukraine's embattled president. Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smouldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced police from Kiev's iconic Independence Square -- the epicentre of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis.
KIEV, Ukraine — Russia ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness Wednesday in a show of force that prompted a blunt warning from the United States that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."
Vladimir Putin's announcement of huge new war games came as Ukraine's protest leaders named a millionaire former banker to head a new government after the pro-Russian president went into hiding.
The new government, which is expected to be formally approved by parliament Thursday, will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. Its fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the capital last week.
In Kiev's Independence Square, the heart of the protest movement against Yanukovych, the interim leaders who seized control after he disappeared proposed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country's new prime minister. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.
Across Ukraine, the divided allegiances between Russia and the West were on full display as fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russia protesters in the strategic Crimea peninsula.
Amid the tensions, Putin put the military on alert for massive exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia, and announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
The maneuvers will involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships, and are intended to "check the troops' readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation's military security," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
The move prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.
"Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, a grave mistake," Kerry told reporters in Washington. "The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected."
In delivering the message, Kerry also announced that the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic.
Still, Kerry insisted that U.S. policy was not aimed at reducing Russia's influence in Ukraine or other former Soviet republics, but rather to see their people realize aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies.
"This is not 'Rocky IV'," Kerry said, referring to the 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an aging American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman. "It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-U.S. or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that's a very powerful force."
Russia denied the military maneuvers had any connection to the situation in Ukraine, but the massive show of force appeared intended to show both the new Ukrainian authorities and the West that the Kremlin was ready to use all means to protect its interests.
While Russia has pledged not to intervene in Ukraine's domestic affairs, it has issued a flurry of statements voicing concern about the situation of Russian speakers in Ukraine, including in the Crimea.
The strategic region, which hosts a major Russian naval base and where the majority of the population are Russian speakers, has strong ties to Moscow. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia — a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.
Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel of the Russian military's General Staff, wrote a commentary in a Russian online newspaper, slon.ru, saying "if illegal armed formations attempt to overthrow the local government in Crimea by force, a civil war will start and Russia couldn't ignore it."
Still, while the exercises include most units from Russia's Western Military District and some from the Central Military District that spreads across the Urals and part of Siberia, it does not involve troops from the Southern Military District, such as the Black Sea Fleet and areas in southern Russia that neighbor Ukraine.
This seemed to signal that Moscow does not want to go too far. By flexing its military muscles Russia clearly wants to show the West it must seriously consider its interests in Ukraine, while avoiding inflaming tensions further.
In Crimea, fistfights broke out between rival demonstrators in the regional capital of Simferopol when some 20,000 Muslim Tatars rallying in support of Ukraine's interim leaders clashed with a smaller pro-Russian rally.
The protesters shouted and attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, as police and leaders of both rallies struggled to keep the two groups apart.
One health official said at least 20 people were injured, while the local health ministry said one person died from an apparent heart attack. Tatar leaders said there was a second fatality when a woman was trampled to death by the crowd. Authorities did not confirm that.
The Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Crimea for centuries, were brutally deported in 1944 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but have since returned.
One of the first jobs for Yatsenyuk and other members of his new Cabinet will be seeking outside financial help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Economists say Ukraine is close to financial collapse, with its currency under pressure and its treasury almost empty. The acting finance minister has said Ukraine will need $35 billion in bailout loans to get through the next two years.
Any such deal will require a new prime minister to take unpopular steps, such as raising the price of gas to consumers. The state gas company charges as little as one-fifth of what it pays for imported Russian gas. The IMF unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to halt the practice under two earlier bailouts, and halted aid when Kiev wouldn't comply.
The European Commission's top officials held a meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss how the 28-nation bloc can provide rapid financial assistance to Ukraine.
Protesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on February 20, 2014 in Kiev. Ukraine's embattled leader announced a "truce" with the opposition as he prepared to get grilled by visiting EU diplomats over clashes that killed 26 and left the government facing diplomatic isolation. The shocking scale of the violence three months into the crisis brought expressions of grave concern from the West and condemnation of an "attempted coup" by the Kremlin. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC #
Athletes compete in the Women's 12.5 km Mass Start during day ten of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) #
A boy wears a mask in an area covered by ash after the eruptions of Mount Kelud at Pandansari village on February 16, 2014 in Malang Regency, Indonesia. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from villages on the Indonesian island of Java yesterday, after Mount Kelud erupted, spewing ash and lava 17km into the sky. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #
Anti-government protesters continue to clash with police in Independence square, despite a truce agreed between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between police and anti-government protesters, who are calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #