Citizens in Crimea have been displaying signs reading “Putin is our president” and “Russia, we have been abandoned, take us back!” Late Sunday in the city of Kerch, the Ukrainian flag above the city administration building was taken down and hoisted the Russian flag in its place.
At the same time, armored vehicles from the Russian military base in Sevastopol blocked all entrances to the city — essentially protecting it — after local authorities refused to recognize the new Ukrainian government.
What’s more, 20,000 Ukrainians spontaneously appointed a local businessman and Russian national to head the city. He immediately announced his refusal to transfer any local tax revenues to Kiev and announced authority over the city’s police force.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that units of the Russian forces which formed a steel ring around the Olympic Winter Games that ended in Sochi Sunday were flown and shipped Monday, Feb. 24 to Russian bases at the Ukrainian Crimean port of Sevastopol, as Moscow refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new authorities in Kiev.
Giant Russian Air Force transports and rapid deployment forces were placed on alert at the Rostov on-Don base east of the predominantly Russian-speaking southeastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk.
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Russian military movements were also sighted near Belgorod, a Russian town 40 kilometers from the Ukraine border and north of its second largest town of Kharkov. There, too, most of the inhabitants are Russian speaking with a strong affinity to Moscow – in contrast to their European-oriented compatriots in the capital, Kiev.
These military movements were accompanied by sharp Russian rhetoric in Moscow’s first direct response to the tumult in Kiev and ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, against whom Kiev police Monday issued a warrant for mass murder.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday:
“Today I see no legitimate Ukrainian partners for a dialogue. If people crossing Kyiv in black masks and Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government,” he said, calling it “the result of a mutiny.”
The prime minister spoke of a “real threat to our interests, and to our citizens’ lives and health.”
With these comments, the Russian leader laid down a pretext for Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
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It was Moscow’s response to the warning issued by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice Sunday, Feb. 23, that “it would be a grave mistake for Russia to send military force.” An area emerging as a potential flashpoint in the Ukraine crisis is the Crimean peninsula in the south.
Today at 12:00 from the Russian port of Temryuk should arrive in Sevastopol, the large landing ship “Nikolai Fil’chenkov” with 200 soldiers on board. This was reported today by the chairman of the Ukraine “Freedom” faction Oleg Tyagnibok citing sources in the Crimean. Six Hi-8 Helicopters were sent to Anapa.
When Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, it took Crimea with it. Moscow has since leased the strategically critical naval base as a deep-water port for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, with easy access to the Mediterranean. The lease is paid up to 2042. Ethnic Russians make up almost 60 per cent of the population, with Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars accounting for the rest. If Ukrainian turmoil continues and it faces a real threat of breaking up, Vladimir Putin may seize the opportunity to recover the peninsula. The Russian military force in Sevastopol was already beefed up Monday.
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