Russian Intervention in Ukraine: What is Happening in Crimea? Russia’s First Ploys (Part One)
The Ukrainian political crisis has set fire to the Crimean Autonomous Republic, which situation has been escalating for the past several days. The chronicle of the Russia-guided Crimea’s secession from Ukraine begins with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov visiting Crimea unnoticed twice earlier in February. Surkov had been recently appointed by President Vladimir Putin to supervise the affairs of Georgia’s Russian-occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Apparently, Crimean affairs has been included in Surkov’s tasks.
During the third week of February, a Duma’s (Russian Parliament) delegation headed by CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Affairs Commission chairman Leonid Slutsky and other senior lawmakers also visited Crimea. As a result, they harshly blamed the regime change in Kyiv as a “fascist usurpation”, talked of Crimea as a part of the “Russian world”, pledging economic assistance from Russia and Russia’s citizenship to Crimea’s residents.
Also almost unnoticed at international level, the city of Sevastopol – where Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) is based according to a Russia-Ukraine bilateral agreement expiring in 2042 – openly started maneuvering to secede from Ukraine without any semblance of legal cover. Ukraine’s constitution attributes a special-status to Sevastopol, distinct from the Crimean Autonomous Republic. Sevastopol is subordinated directly to Ukraine’s central authorities, which appoint the head of city’s state administration and the law enforcement authorities.
But on February 23, Aleksey Chalyi, a local businessman with Russian citizenship, was proclaimed as mayor of Sevastopol and head of a newly created coordinating committee with self-arrogated, expanded administrative powers. Both positions do not exist legally. Thereby Volodymyr Yatsuba, the Kyiv-appointed head of the administration of Sevastopol, was pressured to resign. As first act, Chalyi transferred into Sevastopol’s subordination (i.e., his own) the local Berkut unit of riot police. An unlawful decision since Berkut units are subordinated to Ukraine’s central authorities; and also an open provocation to Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister which ordered to disband Berkut units throughout Ukraine.
On the evening of February 26, military personnel – presumed to be Russian special forces – carried by unmarked airplanes occupied Simferopol Airport (the only international airport in Crimea). Concurrently, Forces of the Russia BSF – based in Sevastopol – blocked the Belbek military airport near Sevastopol. That same day, the BSF accepted 11,000 Russian paratroopers as an extra force. Furthermore, another Duma’s delegation – including Vladimir Vasiliev, Duma deputy speaker, Valentina Tereshkova, Duma member and the first female Cosmonaut of Russia, as well as other Russian parliamentarians and members of the ruling United Russia party – arrived in the strategic port of Sevastopol.
On the morning of February 27, around 50–100 heavily armed Russian gunmen seized the Crimean Parliament and the building of the Council of Ministers, and raised the Russian Federation flag from the tops of both buildings. The men did not bear any identification marks so they are presumed to be Russian special troops from the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, i.e.: Main Intelligence Directorate), the foreign military intelligence.
During the night of February 27–28, another heavily armed squad, also looking like GRU troops, seized the Simferopol airport and since February 28, unmarked Russian tanks started moving through Simferopol, the administrative capital of Crimea.