Unmarked soldiers have seized both Sevastopol and Simferopol airports, and have established roadblocks at key locations in the Crimea. The deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, who still maintains he is the legitimate head of state, is due to give a press conference shortly in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. While Russia continues to vow that it will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, it appears ever more likely that a Russian intervention in Crimea is already under way.
Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day:
The Night Wolves, the pro-Kremlin bikers’ gang already making its presence felt around Crimea helping with the armed Russian takeover, is planning a motorcycle rally tomorrow 1 March, Ekho Moskvy reports.
As reported earlier, Night Wolves leader Aleksandr Zaldostanov, known as “Surgeon,” has arrived in Simferopol and is asking local residents “what they need.” He said his club plans to “deliver humanitarian aid,” and told RIA Novosti that medicine and other goods will be “brought to Sevastopol from Stalingrad.” (Yes, that’s what he called the city which is usually named “Volgograd” in modern Russia). Zaldostanov also said his club would bring ATVs, which would be helpful to Ukrainians “to maintain connections between checkpoints.” The Night Wolves are notorious for their close ties to the Kremlin; last year President Vladimir Putin awarded Zaldostanov the prestigious Order of Honour for his “active work in patriotic upbringing of the young” and for helping search for the remains of missing World War II soldiers, RBTH reported.
Ekho Moskvy said the situation was tense in Crimea as “the region does not recognize the change in government in Ukraine.” That doesn’t do justice to the conflicting reports of Crimean Tatars in Crimea who mainly support the EuroMaidan protest movement and others not oriented toward Moscow. Ekho Moskvy, which has recently come under pressure from the Kremlin with a new general manager, said that a delegation of all the Russian State Duma’s factions is now in Crimea. Sergei Zheleznyak, United Russia vice speaker, said the Russian MPs would “conduct a dialogue only with the lawfully-elected authorities.”
0308 GMT:The Night Wolves, a motorcycle gang with ties to the Kremlin, are on the move in Simferopol, reports local photo journalist Andrei Kanishchev.
He has spotted them around town today with their distinctive patches, chains and bling. In this photo, a biker nicknamed “Surgeon” (Aleksandr Zaldostanov) gives an interview to Russian reporters who seemed to have popped up for the occasion. The Guardian reported today that the Night Wolves were used to blockade roads in Sevastopol during the attack on the airport. Check out Kanishchev’s Facebook page for more photos.
0242 GMT: Intrepid Simferopol photojournalist Andrei Kanishchev, who works at Trans-M Radio, has been covering the street scene in his town since armed masked men took over government buildings and the airport in recent days. “I don’t know if I can get out to walk tomorrow…General impressions — everyone is sort of crushed, in anticipation, the city has emptied out toward evening, and not only in the cordoned-off zone,” he wrote this evening.
Kanishchev has published photos of empty streets today on his Facebook page, but also some of a few people getting out to buy groceries. The streets are blocked off and cops are checking vehicles. With temperatures near zero Celsius, local police are freezing, and while local people have offered them food, they are eating their own rations and drinking tea from army thermoses.
In the first photo above, a man stands at an improvised desk downtown with a laptop and a sound system reading the latest news out to townspeople. Men wearing the orange-and-black St. George ribbons adopted by Russian nationalists ring the crowd. State TV stations were seized earlier today. In the second photo, people listen to speeches at a rally.
“When there’s no news, they sing songs,” says Kanishchev. As he stood there listening, an announcement was made that the Russian special forces had blocked Ukrainian border guards in Balaklava, and there were shouts of approval and applause. When the announcement was made of Yanukovych’s press conference in Rostov-na-Donu, there was a few claps.
There have been some protest rallies, and Kanishchev shows pictures of the local pro-Moscow Russian Movement of Crimea. Those who read poetry in Russian and appreciate literary references will find Kanishchev has a number of lyrics for the occasion. Looking at the tense faces in the crowd and a man with a Russian Bloc armband, he comments, “There is something in these portraits from Bosch and a bit of Bruegel the Elder, at least, I saw the beret with flaps in their pictures.”
0200 GMT: Censor.net has published unconfirmed reports of an alleged attempt by Russian forces to provoke Ukrainian troops into firing.
The reports come from the Facebook page of Dmitry Tymchuk, director of the Kiev-based Center for Military Political Research. The Interpreter provides a translation:
This is an invasion! Russian paratroopers with torn-off chevrons are seizing military bases. Russian IL-76s are landing at airfields. Now there is a storming of the 36th Brigade [of Ukrainian Navy Coastal Defense]. Ukrainian troops are completely demoralized — there is no resistance. There is information from many local sources. This is war. Or to be more precise — takeover.
It has just been reported that the 36th Brigade has kept its distance. The personnel are trying to defend themselves.
At 21:40 the storm seemed not to have succeeded (or was postponed). It is possible that there was a provocation in order to force Ukrainians to open fire. The question of the fleeing command of the brigade remains open.
At 22:00 from two sources: The provocation against the brigade was neutralized. The command is evidently in place and is in control of the situation. We will hope that these little Russian soldiers won’t continue their experiments. God willing!
0242 GMT: Here’s some footage Russian state television channels didn’t show today from Yanukovych’s press conference (covered below): the deposed Ukrainian president snapping a pencil in rage.
0140 GMT: Censor.NET is reporting a statement from a regional majlis that the Kirvoske military airbase in Crimea has been captured:
The head of the Kirovske regional majlis, Ekrem Abdulvapov, said the following over the telephone: Kirovske military airfield has been captured. 16 military trucks jam-packed with soldiers entered the grounds of the airfield. The trucks were travelling with an escort of 2 or 3 hummers.
0036 GMT: Russia is against imposing a mediation mission on Crimea to settle the situation on the peninsula, ITAR-TASS reports. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin spoke after a meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine today.
“We must ask the government of Crimea what they think on that score. We are against the imposition of mediation,” he said. Churkin added that the idea “must be discussed and analyzed.”
US Ambassador Samantha Power suggested that Robert Serry, a special envoy of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, should head a mediation mission to Crimea.
But as Inner-City Press notes, the proposal to have Serry go to the Crimea may have resonated poorly with Churkin. That was because of the leaked telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, published 6 February.
In the conversation, Nuland suggested that through UN Undersecretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior State Department official, Serry, the former Dutch ambassador to Kiev should be brought in to help defuse the crisis in Ukraine.
During the UNSC meeting today, Amb. Raimonda Murmokaité of Lithuania, the current monthly rotating chair noted, “Support was expressed for the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
0015 GMT: CNN is showing images of it describes as “Russian tanks in Ukraine”. The images, reportedly from Sevastopol, show four self propelled guns, identified by John Schindler of XX Committee as 2S1 122mm variants. The deployment of self propelled artillery as opposed to APCss or even tanks, suggests a much more offensive role. While tanks can hold territory defensively, SPGs are uselful only for bombardment.
2327 GMT: The airport in Simferopol has stopped taking flights, Lenta.ru reported at 22:56 Moscow time tonight.
The air space over Simferopol is closed, says ITAR-TASS. RIA Novosti reported that it is closed at least until 18:30 on 1 March. A dispatcher told the news agency that the ban on flights may be extended.
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that air space is closed over all of Crimea.
Ayder Muzhdabayev, deputy editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets, reported on Facebook 2 hours ago:
Urgent from Crimea
Armed divisions have seized the state television station (GTRK) of Crimea. All the staff have gathered together at the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR, hundreds of others have come. They are waiting for the seizure. Several APCs have arrived. For now, they’ve passed by. They are also expected seizure of the building of the Crimean Tatar’s Medjlis [Assembly]. People are already going there. Everyone is afraid of what will happen tonight. There it is.
Friends, colleagues, take care of yourself! Don’t resist the military. God save Crimea!
2134 GMT: Russian blogger Lev Shlosberg who writes for the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya has written this report today at 4:42 pm (translated by The Interpreter) that says that Russian “Officers and Contractors of the 76th Chernihov (Pskov) Airborne Assault Troops Division” are now in Ukraine:
According to one of the participants in the operation, officers and contractors of the 76th Airborne Assault Troops Division have been re-locating to Ukrainian territory since last week. By early this week, there were already more than 100 soldiers. The last of the famous detachments was sent on Thursday, 27 February. They are fully armed, with 5,000 rounds of ammunition per person. There is one truck per 10 soldiers, and they are completely loaded with weapons including flame-throwers. Upon arrival on the territory of Ukraine, they did not report their geographical locations to people, and they were assigned local tasks. Most likely, this was Sevastopol and Simferopol. Emergency troops remain in Yysk, and did not take part in the operation. The barracks of the 76th Storm Troops Division on Margelova Street in Pskov is practically empty.
2128 GMT: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian politician who is the founder of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and is also a colonel in the Russian army, says he is stuck in Crimea, and he’s blaming Kiev:
Zhirinovsky stuck at #Simferopol airport w LDPR delegation, says they cannot fly back to Moscow because “Kiev closed airspace” Interfax
— Nikolaus von Twickel (@niktwick) February 28, 2014
2123 GMT: UNN has this report (translated by The Interpreter).
Crimean Parliament Creates Berkut Division of Ex-Berkut Soldiers The Verkhovna Rada or parliament of Crimea has created a Berkut special division to protect public order which will be subordinate exclusively to the republican [Crimean] government, says Rustam Temirgaliev, first vice premier of the Council of Ministers of Crimea, unn.com.ua reported, citing Temirgaliev’s Facebook page. “I met with the soldiers from Berkut late last night and agreed to create a Crimean Berkut special division to protect public order which will be subordinate exclusively to the Republican government,” he said. Verkhovna Rada deputies have already passed the relevant decision.
2113 GMT: UNN reports that the entire command of the Ukrainian navy has resigned. This may be a rumor, however, since the UNN report also notes that the Ministry of Defense has no mention of this on their website, and their press service has not reported it.
2106 GMT: Voice of America’s Myroslava Gongadze reports on the UN Security Council Meeting:
Ukrainian ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev : What do you want from this meeting? “Support. Moral, political support of world community because what is going on is awful. The military presence in Crimea, which is enlarging, this is something which should attract the attention of the world community because it is the challenge to the security & peace in the region, and challenging the territorial integrity.” British Ambo Mark Lyall Grant: “This is a private meeting of SC followed by consultations at request of Lithuanian delegation, in their national capacity, following a letter from the permanent rep of Ukraine. We think it is an [important] opportunity to set out our concerns about developments, particularly in the Crimea, also to call on all parties to deescalate the situation, reduce the tension and to underline… we hope that all member states attach to the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
2038 GMT: Kyiv Post has this picture of a checkpoint manned by ununiformed men near the city of Armyansk, on February 28, 2014.
2028 GMT: Here’s the details on this reported Russian invasion force, via the BBC:
Russian aircraft carrying nearly 2,000 suspected troops have landed at a military air base near [Simferopol], senior Ukrainian official Sergiy Kunitsyn is reported by the AFP to have told Crimea’s ATR television channel. Mr Kunitsyn says 13 Russian planes have landed with 150 people in each one.
Special representative to Crimea: thirteen Russian aircraft land at base near Sevastopol with 150 people on each — Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) February 28, 2014
2006 GMT: The interim Ukrainian president says that Russia has started the “Abkhazia Scenario in Crimea.” Our translation:
“Under the guise of military exercises, Russia has brought troops into the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. And not only have they seized the parliament of the Crimea, the Council of Ministers of the Crimea, they are trying to take civilian buildings under control, communications, and trying to block places where Ukrainian soldiers are based,” he said in an appeal to the nation. “They are provoking us to military conflict. According to information from our intelligence, they are working out scenarios that are completely analogous to Abkhazia, when after provoking a conflict, they began annexation of territory,” the acting president emphasized.
— Euromaidan PR (@EuromaidanPR) February 28, 2014
.@Turchynov: I’m addressing President Putin to stop provocation, call back military from Crimea, work exclusively w/in framework of agrmnts
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 28, 2014
1942 GMT: BBC is playing a video from one of their correspondents in Crimea. He’s pointing out that while many checkpoints are manned by unmarked anonymous militants, but heavily armed soldiers and troop carriers are within eyesight. In other words, it seems that the anonymous militias and the military-style but anonymous soldiers are working together. BBC also notes that armed gunmen still technically control Crimean parliament, and yet parliament is still meeting. In other words, these anonymous gunmen are clearly not anonymous to the Crimean parliament of the local authorities. Several news websites, including UK’s Channel 5, are now reporting that it is Russian troops that are landing at Simferopol airport now, matching our reports we carried earlier. Josh Rogin writes for The Daily Beast that the troops may not be Russian military, but Russia’s version of “Blackwater”:
Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region… “They don’t have Russian military uniforms and the Russia government is denying they are part of the Russian military. Actually most of them may be Ukrainian citizens. But these are people that are legally allowed to perform services to the Russian fleet,” said Dimitri Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest… Simes cautioned that information about the fast moving events in Crimea is hard to verify, but the message coming out of Moscow is that these security contractors were deployed by the Russian military for two purposes; first of all they want to secure the airport to ensure that thousands of pro-western protesters don’t descend into Crimea to push back against the Crimean population’s effort to establish a new government and seek some autonomy from the new government in Kiev, which most Crimeans see as illegitimate.
But earlier reports suggest that it was Russian Black Sea fleet units that took over a border post and coast guard base. And the pattern playing out at the airports may confirm this:
Much respect for @joshrogin but that piece is pretty thinly sourced; the battalion arriving in IL-76s ain’t PMC, rather VDV.
— John Schindler (@20committee) February 28, 2014
[VDV are the Russian initials for the Airborne Troops-Ed.]
1933 GMT: The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) has released a statement about the safety of the freedom of the press in Ukraine:
OSCE Representative on Freedom Dunja Mijatović today expressed her concern about the presence of armed group of people at national TV and radio channel Krym in Simferopol, Ukraine.
“I am troubled by the reports about the situation, which can intimidate journalists,” Mijatović said. “I am deeply concerned about the media freedom situation in Simferopol and the Crimean peninsula as a whole, following the current political developments in Ukraine.
“Safety of media workers must be ensured at all times and their work must be respected. In such difficult and sensitive situations as Ukraine finds itself in at the moment, media freedom and plurality of opinion must be ensured.”
According to media reports, the channel’s building is surrounded by a group of some 20 armed unidentified people who control access to the premises but do not interfere with the work of journalists.
1929 GMT: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has briefed the press on the situation in Ukraine. He reaffirms America’s commitment to the country’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty” — this, even as Russia has escalated its military presence in Crimea and is arguably in the processing of seizing total control over the peninsula:
The final session held today was on NATO-Ukraine relations. It was the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting. In light of the rapidly evolving political situation in Ukraine, I was pleased to welcome Ukraine’s participation in the ministerial. And today I affirm America’s strong support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And NATO defense ministers made the same declaration in a joint statement.
We expect other nations to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and avoid provocative actions. That’s why I’m closely watching Russia’s military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they announced, as you know, yesterday. I expect Russia to be transparent about these activities. And I urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation during a very delicate time, a time of great tension.
In northern Crimea transport hub Dzhankoi (my former home), there are patrols of the train station ‘to not let in provocateurs.’
— Hannah Thoburn (@HannahThoburn) February 28, 2014
— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) February 28, 2014
The BBC also has this report:
Telephone hubs in Crimea have been blocked, Ukraine’s Channel 5 TV reports. An official from the company that owns the Ukrainian telecom monopoly Ukrtelekom is also reported to have told Ukrainska Pravda the firm is unable to get in touch with its Crimean branch. (BBC Monitoring).
Below a translation from Ukrainskaya Pravda about Russian military planes landing in Crimea:
Russian airplanes are landing in Crimea from the direction of Russia, and a column of APCs is heading from the east toward Simferopol.
There are reports of at least 5 large IL-76 planes landing in the district of the military airfield in the town of Gvardeyskoye.
Various sources are reporting that a column of 10 Russian APCs is heading from Sevastopol toward Simfereopol.
Interfax Ukraine reports that all air traffic is halted at the Belbek Airport in Sevastopol due to the seizure of the landing strip by unknown persons.
“There are about 400 people now in the Belbek airport. They have occupied the landing strip and any movement of planes is stopped,” said a source.
Also, we are reposting this video allegedly showing helicopters headed toward the Belbek airfield because…
…Ukrainskaya Pravda now reports: “On Friday, the State Border Service tracked the flight from the direction of Kerch to Ukraine of more than 10 Russian military helicopters. Ukraine received the appropriate notification for only three of them from the Black Sea Fleet.”
1844 GMT: Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov, like many others, is asking the question – who exactly are these troops that have taken over the airport in Simferopol?
Armed people took over the airport in Simferopol last night. A checkpoint has been set up on the road between Sevastopol and Evpatoriya. No one seems to be able to say who the unidentified armed people who took over the Crimean parliament yesterday.”
In addition, 10-15 Russian riflemen in masks and helmets are controlling the entrance to the administrative buildings at the Simferopol airport. Soldiers are at the parking lot at the old terminal. there are civilians from the “self defense” along with them with St. George ribbons [St. George ribbons are used in medals of valor for World War II, but in recent years have increasingly appeared at Russian nationalist marches-Ed]. The soldiers refuse to communicate. They have placed metal barriers and demand that no one go past them. There is a story that the airport is being blocked not by troops of the Black Sea Fleet, but special forces from the Russian GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate] who have arrived from Russia. A special forces plane has landed at the Black Sea Fleet military airfield in the village of Gvardeyskoye.
1835 GMT: We have updated our entry at 1815 to reflect more information about an attack on a Jewish Synagogue in Simferopol.
1825 GMT: Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR.ua, which is describing itself as one of the few remaining independent outlets on the peninsula, is broadcasting a man in the street interviewing ethnic Russians, Tatars, and others.
“We are a peaceful people.” Young woman.
“I am shocked that Russia would take such actions.” Young man.
“We are worried, we have children.” Middle-aged woman.
“There was a hope for Maidan, for changes, so, no, we don’t want to go into Russia.” Young woman.
“If our participation would help some how….” Young man.
The are also reporting that their journalists were not allowed to get access to the Simferopol airport. This picture shows an ATR journalist trying to get an interview with a soldier at the Simferopol airport, but he turns away from her and has no comment.
AFP journalist told flight from Kiev to Simferopol cancelled
— Anna Malpas (@malpasanna) February 28, 2014
— Jenny Mathers (@jgmaber) February 28, 2014
This is a picture of the Progressive Synagogue of Simferopol.
UPDATE: Crimean TV ATR.UA has interviewed the Rabbi of this synagogue in Simferopol which has been defaced with graffiti saying “Death to the Yids.”
Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, said in an interivew with ATR.ua that the vandals would have had to climb a fence to reach the building, and unfortunately, evaded video surveillance.
“I don’t think this is just young kids, vandals. I think it is provocateurs who are exploiting the difficult situation in the city and inciting inter-religious conflict.”
This claim is interesting. The leader of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and Moshe Reuven Azman, the Chabad chief Rabbi of Ukraine, have both said that antisemitism is not on the rise and the revolution is not inherently antisemitic. And just yesterday, the head of Right Sector met with the Israeli Ambassador and reaffirmed that neither he nor the platform of his part is antisemitic.
Some have suggested that pro-Russian elements are actually painting anti-Jewish graffiti in order to frame the opposition.
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) February 28, 2014
Here’s our translation:
The leaders had detailed discussions concerning the latest developments in the crisis in Ukraine. They stressed the extreme importance of preventing further escalation in violence and the need to quickly normalize the situation.
The politicians agreed to maintain personal contact regarding this topic and to intensify cooperation between foreign policy departments.
Ukrainian international airline says it has cancelled flights to #Crimea because “airspace is closed” -Reuters
— LBCI News English (@LBCI_News_EN) February 28, 2014
1752 GMT: We’re watching Crimean TV, and here are a few key statements:
Fighter planes are buzzing the air space over Dzhankoye.
The army base at Evpatoria has been blocked by people in camouflage uniforms.
Dozens of men in track suits have thrown flash grenades and are penetrating into the building of the Council of Ministers. Now a dozen men in army uniforms are approaching carrying a whole arsenal of weapons.
That’s it — the Crimean Parliament and the Council of Ministers have now been seized by armed men.
We should note that these claims are unconfirmed. It’s also not clear if they are replaying video from yesterday.
UPDATE: We’re now pretty confident that the report about gunmen seizing parliament was a rebroadcast of yesterday’s news.
1745 GMT: The US State Department has expressed “concern” over today’s developments:
Kerry told reporters that the U.S. believes “intervention would be a grave mistake,” CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports from the State Department.
Kerry spoke by phone to Sergey Lavrov on Friday after seeing reports of pro-Russia gunmen patrolling streets in armored vehicles and taking over airports in the country’s Crimea region. He said Lavrov assured him that Russia intends to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity but noted that Russia has interests in the former Soviet republic, including a naval base in Crimea.
Kerry said the U.S. is watching to see if Russian activity “might be crossing a line in any way” and urged Moscow against action that might be misinterpreted as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 28, 2014
The source for the Censor.net report, however, is a Tatar leader. And the Tatar’s are a little nervous at the moment:
Crimean Tatar TV: “We are experiencing an invasion by air, land, and sea. There are Russian vehicles all over.”: http://t.co/xVNwDUQg87
— michaeldweiss (@michaeldweiss) February 28, 2014
— Marcelle Hopkins (@marcellehopkins) February 28, 2014
Berkut get a warm welcome from Russia Today RT @M_Simonyan Дорогие бойцы Беркута! Добро пожаловать! Не знаю, кто как, а я рада. Чаю будете?
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) February 28, 2014
Translation: Dear Berkut soldiers! Welcome! I don’t know, people feel differently, but I’m glad. Will you have some tea?
1712 GMT: For days we’ve been reporting rumors that the Russian government was expediting passports for ethnic Russians wishing to flee Crimea. There was a draft law debated to this effect in the Russian State Duma. Now, this announcement on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page:
The Consul General of the Russian Federation in Simferopol has been assigned to immediately take all the necessary measures to begin handing out Russian passports to soldiers of the Berkut detachment.
In other words, Russia is now urging the nationalization of Yanukovych’s riot police.
Why is this important? Before Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 they issued passports to ethnic Russians.
At now, the Russian State Duma is discussing a draft law for adding a new subject of the Russian Federation, i.e. Crimea. In other words, Russia is taking many steps that it took before invading Georgia. This looks to be an attempt to annex Crimea.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) February 28, 2014
“Around 400 people are in the airport of Belbek now. They have occupied runway and all plane movements have been stopped,” the news agency quoted the source as saying.
At the same time, AP journalists in Crimea have spotted a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers and a truck on a road between the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital, Sinferopol.
The Russian tricolor flags were painted on the vehicles, which were parked on the side of the road near the town of Bakhchisarai, apparently because one of them had mechanical problems.
Russia is supposed to notify Ukraine of any troop movements outside the naval base it maintains in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said movements of armored vehicles belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet were prompted by the need to ensure security of its base and didn’t contradict the lease terms.
БТР, который провезли со стороны Бельбека. 4 антенны. Командирский? pic.twitter.com/XdvmnlDuY5
— Ольга Ившина (@oivshina) February 28, 2014
1659 GMT: A representative of the Black Sea Fleet has said that the Russian forces had no part in the takeover of two airports today:
A spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet denied the reports that its troops are involved in blocking the Belbek airfield, according to the Interfax news agency.
“No subdivision of the Black Sea Fleet has been advanced into the Belbek area, let alone involved in blocking it,” the spokesman said. “Given the unstable situation around the Black Sea Fleet bases in the Crimea, and the places where our service members live with their families, security has been stepped by the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-terror units.”
However, journalists report that the gunmen at a naval base and border post were both wearing Russian Black Sea fleet uniforms. Journalists also report that some of the gunmen at the airports had uniforms consistent with Russian soldiers. And the video of the helicopters flying in Crimea is consistent with claims from the Ukrainian military that Russian helicopters flew over their airspace.
1653 GMT: For the second time in as many days, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that its military maneuverings are normal, have nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine, and are within the bounds of Russian agreements with Ukraine:
Maneuvers of armored vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea are conducted fully in line with Russian-Ukrainian basic agreements, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated on Friday.
“The Russian Foreign Ministry has also filed a return note to Ukraine over maneuvers of armored vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea that were required to protect deployment places of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine that is being done fully in line with Russian-Ukrainian basic agreements on the Black Sea Fleet,” the ministry stated.
In another statement, they said that there were no reasons to hold any emergency talks:
Moscow does not see any need to hold immediate bilateral consultations on Crimea, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported.
“The Russian Foreign MInistry said in a note that Russia considers the events in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as a result of internal political processes in Ukraine,” the ministry said.
1635 GMT: This video reportedly shows about 10 or 11 helicopters in Crimea today. However, it’s a different video than what we posted earlier (jump to update 1531).
These helicopters appear to be MI-28 Havocs, far more dangerous than MI 24s which The Aviationist spotted in our earlier update. Here are two screenshots from the video:
And a picture from Military Today
It’s unclear if the helicopters in the other video are the same as these, or if these are a different sortie of helicopters.
UpdateWe’ve been reviewing the video of the helicopters and what we might be seeing is a mix of MI 28s, MI 24s, and some other smaller helicopters as well. It seems like they are not all the same.
1625 GMT: Ukraine’s Interior Minister has called Russian actions today a “military invasion” by Russia, and while RFE/RL reports that the situation is now resolved, Ukraine has sent the issue to the UN Security Council:
The head of Ukraine’s Security Council says two airports in Crimea are “de facto” under Ukrainian control, despite attempts by armed men to seize them on February 28.
Andriy Parubiy said armed men had set up checkpoints outside the airports.
Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, previously said the airports in Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, and the regional capital, Simferopol, were controlled by Russian navy troops.
The Ukrainian parliament urged Moscow to halt moves that could undermine Ukrainian national sovereignty.
The Black Sea Fleet denied its troops had moved into the airports, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it considers events in Crimea the result of internal political differences.
1615 GMT: Ukraine appears to be confirming what we reported earlier, that a sortie of Russian helicopters entered Ukrainian airspace earlier. Earlier we carried reports that 10 or 11 MI-24 military helicopters were headed towards Sevastopol airport, which has been seized today (jump to update 1531). Though we can’t connect the dots 100% to ensure that these are the same helicopters, this would indicated Russian military activity involved in the taking of the airport.
#c4news Ukraine says more than 10 Russian helicopters flew into her airspace today.
— alex thomson (@alextomo) February 28, 2014
1609 GMT: The United Nations Security Council is holding a meeting on Ukraine soon:
— JAMES BAYS (@baysontheroad) February 28, 2014
— Sangwon Yoon (@sangwonyoon) February 28, 2014
1558 GMT: Now there is more evidence that those who seized Simferopol airport were actually Russian soldiers:
— Stuart Webb (@Worldwidewebb1) February 28, 2014
1554 GMT: Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison has tweeted some pictures and reports from some of these roadblocks in Crimea – and some journalists have been attacked by their guards.from 5 hours ago:
— Alan Cullison (@AlanCullison) February 28, 2014
— Alan Cullison (@AlanCullison) February 28, 2014
From 2 hours ago:
— Alan Cullison (@AlanCullison) February 28, 2014
Taken in the last 25 minutes:
— Alan Cullison (@AlanCullison) February 28, 2014
1540 GMT: The Wall Street Journal reports that armed militias have taken control of Crimea’s major highways to stop forces from Kiev from entering.
Crimean special forces and local militiamen with Kalashnikovs and masks have hoisted Russian flags and set up checkpoints on the only two highways that connect the Black Sea peninsula to mainland Ukraine.
The men are checking cars traveling in and out of Crimea, a region in Ukraine’s south that was once part of Russia and has become the epicenter of a backlash against the pro-Western uprising in Kiev that has toppled President Viktor Yanukovych.
The report goes on to discuss checkpoints in Chongar, on a major highway that connects Crimea with the Ukraine, were Berkut have raised Russian flags and established checkpoints to ensure that Ukrainian forces do not attempt to enter Crimea.
In Armyansk, another highway that connects Crimea to the mainland, pro-Russian military men have established checkpoints.
The guards at both locations are armed, pro-Russian, and in control of Crimea’s major highways. The question is, who are they taking orders from?
1531 GMT: Earlier we posted video of Russian military helicopters moving in Crimea (jump to update 1058).The Aviationist has identified the helicopters: “Amateur video uploaded on Youtube shows eleven Mil Mi-24 helicopters allegedly flying towards the military airport at Sevastopol early in the morning of Feb. 28.
According to some regional media outlets, the news of the gunships was confirmed by Ukrainian Border Guards.”
The Mi-24 is a military helicopter gunship capable of carrying up to 8 passengers.
1524 GMT: Thus far, we’ve only seen reports of Russian troops already stationed inside Ukraine taking direct action this morning. For instance, the troops that seized a coast guard base (jump to update 1307) and those who took over a border post (jump to update 1504) identified themselves as being part of the Black Sea fleet contingent. While they may be behaving illegally, they are technically allowed to be inside Ukraine.RFE/RL is now reporting that this appears to be changing:
Radio Svoboda: 400 Russian paratroopers from Ulyanovsk arrived today in Sevastopol, ships with RU marines on the way. http://t.co/6JHYj87e6f
— Diplomaatia (@diplomaatia) February 28, 2014
These are Russian troops arriving from Russia.
1515 GMT: Some quick market news:
Wow.. Ruble is getting stronger after Yanukovich said that Russia would not invade Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/7tPQJjxSpI
— Russian Market (@russian_market) February 28, 2014
And Yanukovych did indeed say that he did not want to see Russian military intervention, and he wanted to see Ukraine remain one country. Problematically, however, it appears that Russia has already militarily intervened in Ukraine – but it’s not an invasion, it’s an invasion from within, as Russia already has troops there.
1512 GMT: Meanwhile, there are indications that pro-Yanukovych forces from elsewhere in Ukraine are traveling to Crimea. This trend has been reported by many media outlets, and today there are more reports:
— Paul Sonne (@PaulSonne) February 28, 2014
1504 GMT: Men identifying themselves as members of Russian military have already begun to take over parts of Crimea. Reuters reports:
At least 20 men wearing the uniform of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and carrying automatic rifles surrounded a Ukrainian border guard post on Friday, in a tense standoff near the port city of Sevastopol in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A Reuters reporter in the Balaklava district saw Ukrainian border police in helmets and riot gear shut inside the border post, with a metal gate pulled shut and metal riot shields placed behind the windows as protection.
A servicemen who identified himself as an officer of the Black Sea Fleet told Reuters: “We are here … so as not to have a repeat of the Maidan.”
A few things to keep in mind — we can’t confirm these men are really with the Black Sea fleet, but if they are, there is no provision that we are aware of in the Kharkhov Agreement or any other that would give the Russian military any authority to conduct such an operation.
1454 GMT: ITAR-TASS reports that the Ukrainian parliament is threatening to remove a key agreement with Russia in light of recent events (translated by The Interpreter:
The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada or parliament is reviewing whether to annul the Kharkhov Agreement on Russia’s stationing of the Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory, ITAR TASS is reporting.
Deputy Oleg Lyashko has made the proposal today from the podium.
“Given the position the Russian Federation is taking on Crimea, we must immediately abrogate the Kharkhov Agreements,” said Lyashko.
Russian troops are in Crimea only because of this agreement. Without this agreement, Russia may have to give up its base on the Black Sea. Russia is highly unlikely to do this. This is a major provocation, in response to a series of major provocations.
Wikipedia offers this quick summary of the Kharkov Agreement:
The Kharkhov Agreement was signed in 2010 between then-president Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovych, and extended Russia’s lease on the Crimean facilities until 2042 with an option for a five-year extention, in exchange for a multiyear discounted natural gas contract
1450 GMT: Yesterday, the Crimean parliament scheduled a vote on greater autonomy to be held of May 25. That decision was made with an accompanying statement. Rossiyskaya Gazeta, translated by The Interpreter, reports:”Crimeans, as a result of an unconstitutional seizure of power in Ukraine by radical nationalists with support of armed gangs, peace and tranquility in the Crimea are threatened. Yesterday’s clash in front of the building of the Crimean parliament, that resulted in bloodshed and loss of human life is the result of rampant political extremism and violence that swept the country. Ukraine is slipping into total chaos, anarchy and economic disaster. Under these conditions, the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as the highest representative body of the Crimea, based on the will of the residents of the Crimea that elected it, assumes all responsibility for the future of the Crimea,” says the statement by the Autonomous Republic’s parliament. “We are convinced that only by a referendum Crimeans will be able to determine the future of the autonomy themselves, without any external pressure.”
Thursday morning Simferopol was in the headlines of all the world’s news agencies. Three dozen people in camouflage and masks, and armed with guns occupied the Crimean Supreme Council and Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic. Later it turned out that those were part of the of the “self-defense forces of the Russian-speaking population”, that suggested that the local authorities in a relaxed atmosphere and under their protection started discussing the difficult situation in Ukraine.
Meanwhile in Kiev the next Rada session opened, at which the chairman of the “Union” Crimean party Lev Mirimsky said: “Why do you call armed takeovers of regional administrations in Rovno or Poltava revolution, but in the Crimea you call the same a separatist takeover? Crimeans want their voices heard and to be consulted when security agencies leaders are appointed. They are also outraged by the abolition of the law on language policy. The Crimea has to reckoned with, because it is an integral part of Ukraine. And Crimeans want Kiev to treat it as such, just like any other part of the country”. Vitalina Dzoz, a native of the Crimea and a deputy from the Party of Regions added: “By adopting a number of laws, without any regard for the interests of our people, they have unceremoniously tried to tell us what language to speak in the Crimea, how to live.
“That shook the entire peninsula. This cannot happen! We will not let it happen! I urge the new government to take a responsible approach to policy making. I also call for calm. We will keep protecting our interests, our values. But today, let’s make every effort to prevent bloodshed. No political goal is worth a human life. That is not something our children should die for.”
1435 GMT: If you are just joining us, there are two very important headlines so far today. The latest development is that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych has given a press conference, and while we don’t have a full transcript, the most important points, and many quotes, are below.While he said things we expected (I’m still president, the opposition in Kiev need to abide by the agreement they signed before Yanukovych fled the country, ect.) there are a few interesting takeaways. One of them is that Yanukovych was less-than-glowing when speaking about Russia and Putin. In his eyes, he has not been supported enough by Russia, nor have the Ukrainian people. But the second important note is that he has called on Russia to refrain from using military action. Yanukovych maintained that a free, independent, sovereign and unified Ukraine is the only option.
There were also a lot of quotes about how Yanukovych sees himself, and his now-infamous Berkut riot police, as the peacemakers: innocent victims, terrorized by nationalist thugs.
That transcript starts immediately below this update.
But below that, there have been disturbing developments inside Crimea, in southeast Ukraine, where two airports have been taken over by militants, and there are signs that the militants are being directly supported by a mobilizing Russian military. This is the critical story of the day, and we’ll do our best to sort rumor from reliable report (jump to update 1307 and below for more on this morning’s developments in Crimea).
1420 GMT: In conclusion, Yanukovych speaks directly to those who have taken over Kiev. “Come back to your senses and stop this lawlessness. You will be held accountable for this. The end is obvious… Go away, don’t let this lawlessness continue, the people of Ukraine will suffer.”I would like to address the people of Ukraine. First, I would like to apologize to you, to all people who suffer and continue to suffer. Second, I will do everything I can for the rest of my life to be with the people of Ukraine. Not with those thugs, with nationalists, with bureaucrats. No, I will be with the people of Ukraine who are so dear to me. If I were there right now, I would meet with every family, regardless of which side of the barricades they were on.
“These people don’t care about Ukraine. But truth will prevail. Truth will always prevail. Thank you.”
And with that, he left the table.
1416 GMT: RT cut their coverage of the press conference, so we’ve missed a few questions, but it does not appear that Yanukovych is very close to done.Yanukovych reportedly said that he was not aware of Russian special forces operating inside Ukraine.
We’re not sure what question Yanukovych was asked, but he is denying that he or his son have moved wealth abroad.
1410 GMT: Reuters asks if Putin has confirmed that they think Yanukovych is the legitimate President. Reuters also asks what Putin could have done, as Yanukovych accused him of being silent.Yanukovych reaffirms that he is the legitimate ruler in Ukraine. He says he has not yet met Putin so can’t answer this question.
Then he says that it would not be correct for him to say what Russia has to do, but Russia cannot stay indifferent. “Russia needs to use all the leverage it has to prevent the chaos, the terror that is unfolding in Ukraine.
“I do not accept any attempts for an intervention, to break the sovereignty and the integrity of the Ukrainian nation.
There are more questions, but RT is cutting away their coverage.
1403 GMT: The question could not be heard, but Yanukovych started to talk about his work with Russia. He said that the agreement (with the EU) was never really debated by the Rada. The potential fallout for the economy was never considered. When they were considered, the government suspended talks with the EU in order to stabilize their relation with Russia. The work was not finished and so the deal could not be formed. There was room to work with Russia, Ukraine, and the EU, but it would have taken time. Ukraine cannot afford to pick either the EU or Russia. The projected losses in the near term would be hard to estimate, but the dangers were too high.He specifically talks about agriculture, and says that they would not be competitive. As far as machine building, they have different standards than the EU, even for the size of railroad track. And then there’s the defense industry that would miss out on the benefits. Russia would have to take protective measures and increase tariff rates.
He’s sugar coating it, but this could be read as a sign that he is admitting that Russia’s reaction to the EU move was the primary reason for dropping out of the EU deal. Given time, he adds, Europe could meet them halfway. But there was no time (because of the revolution).
1402 GMT: Yanukovych is asked about the charges at the Hague. He says first they need to conduct and independent investigation, at which point they can discuss courts. He does not want to comment because he is “very often provoked… the truth will out one day. What we see today is a show. It’s histrionics, with the gunmen as the authors of this bloodshed scenario. I was more interested in averting that bloodshed.”
1358 GMT: Yanukovych is asked about what happened before this crisis started. He talked about all the groups he met with in order to avoid bloodshed and revolution. Then he says that they were not able to find a peaceful solution. He reaffirms that “it is not acceptable for me to see any alternatives than a peaceful solution. No power is worth a drop of blood, and what has happened has been due to the actions of ‘those people.’ I never gave any orders to the police to open fire. The police were without weapons until the very last minute when people were shooting at them. The police have the right to self defense…”I remember 2004, when we had a similar situation. About 40,000 of my supporters came to the railway station, and their opponents were in Maidan Square. I went to the railway station and stopped the people. There could have been bloodshed. I told my people that we will never forgive, and our wives and others will never forgive us, if blood is spilled.”
1356 GMT: Yanukovych is asked what Russia could do. He said “I believe Russia can act. Since I know Mr. Putin, I am surprised that he has showed such restraint, that he has remained silent.”
1354 GMT: Yanukovych is asked, by Ekho Moskvy, how he knows he is the legitimate ruler. Yanukovych says that the laws passed by the Rada were never signed. Therefore, as he did not resign and if he is alive, and if he is not impeached then the Constitution says that he is still the ruler. What happened in the Rada: “the use of force cannot be called an impeachment. I cannot accept that.”
1350 GMT: Yanukovych is asked if he feels badly for the Berkut riot police who stood with him.Yanukovych says, “these are the people who stood there with no weapons. They were hit with Molotov cocktails, they were shot at, some were killed… they were innocent people and they suffered.”
Yanukovych was asked about Tymoshenko. He said that it’s up to the Ukrainian people as to whether she has a future in Ukrainian politics. As for the criminal case, the decision was legal, her conditions were “exclusive… she enjoyed Presidential conditions… Her release today is (long pause) an issue that has to be considered from a legal standpoint… I never meant harm for her, and I’ve always been vocal about that… but the agreement she signed with Russia lost about $20 billion.”
Yanukoych then acknowledges a disagreement with Putin on this issue.
1347 GMT: Yanukovych is asked about the sanctions that have been placed against him and the finances in Swiss banks that have been seized.Yanukovych responds by saying that no one is enjoying this, and the people of Ukraine are suffering from “this terror… this chaos.” Again, he dodges the question and goes back to a speech about the “lawlessness” in Kiev.
He says it’s not too late to change direction.
1345 GMT: Yanukovych is asked “what means will you use to fight for the future of Ukraine.” Resistance groups are mentioned.Yanukovych reaffirms that once he his safety is ensured and the opposition meets the conditions of the initial deal, he will return to Ukraine. He reiterated that the agreement was breached, and it is up to the West to get back to that agreement. The West’s foreign ministers he accuses of being behind what happened.
1341 GMT: Yanukovych was asked about corruption, and the upcoming elections on May 25. Yanukovych says the money that the opposition is claiming is missing is not a crime, but legal responsibilities by the government. He mostly seems to be ducking the direct question of corruption.As for the election, he says he was preparing for the 2015 election. He never mentioned the May 25th election.
But then he went on to talk about the chaos being the responsibility of the opposition leaders, the “West,” and the United States which bears “the full responsibility.”
At the end he did mention the election on May 25. He said they were illegitimate and he will not participate.
1338 GMT: RT asks if Yanukovych was deceived when he signed the agreement with the opposition. He says he was cynically deceived, as were the Ukrainian people. He demands a response from those who signed the agreement, but he has had no contact with them, and they have not reached out to him through the media.He says they need to meet to resolve the issue.
RT also asked how Yanukovych accounts for divisions within his own political party. Yanukovych says “I’m not a judge. I’m not the one to judge them. Let God judge them.” He says the members of his party were forced to make the decisions they made. “Their families were threatened. Their houses were burned. They were threatened with weapons…”
1336 GMT: How did you get to Russia? Did you meet with Putin?Yanukovych says he got to Russia thanks to the “Patriotically minded officers” who helped “helped me stay alive.” He says he did not meet Putin. When he ended up in Russia he did contact Putin by phone, and they agreed that they will meet at some point.
1334 GMT: Yanukovych has said he will not ask Russia for military assistance, Ukraine needs to stay united, and he will return to Ukraine once conditions of his deal with the opposition have been met.
1333 GMT: “Everything that is happening in Crimea is a response to what happened in Kiev,” Yanukovych said. He spoke of armed bandits, insurgents, and thugs waging “regime change,” and the self-defence forces in Crimea are just trying to defend themselves against nationalists and militants.But then he urged Crimea to stay part of Ukraine and avoid violence.
1330 GMT: Yanukovych is speaking live (see live English translations on RT).He just said that he got in an aircraft, but diverted to Crimea because of a threat to his aircraft. Then he was forced to land.
Other notable points:
— Ilya Mouzykantskii (@ilyamuz) February 28, 2014
Yanukovych talks about fascism, mass looting, killings and terror happening in Kyiv/Ukraine right now. Drama-queen pic.twitter.com/5TICFdwLC4
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) February 28, 2014
— Claudia von Salzen (@claudi) February 28, 2014
This does not bode well for the large swath of relatively apolitical Ukrainians who just want stability as soon as possible. Many Crimeans.
— Paul Sonne (@PaulSonne) February 28, 2014
Shorter Yanukovich: he’s not going down without a fight (but what fight does he have left in him?)
— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) February 28, 2014
1307 GMT:APis reporting that the Ukrainian borders agency has announced that Russian marines have surrounded a Coast Guard base in Sevastopol:
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service says about 30 Russian marines had taken positions outside its Coast Guard base in the Sevastopol.
The agency on Friday quoted the marines from the 810th brigade of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as saying they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.
In Moscow, the Defense Ministry had no comment.
1250 GMT:Censor.NETreports that the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, has declared that “foreign intelligence agencies have attempted to implement a similar scenario to that in the Crimea, in other regions of Ukraine, but these attempts have been foiled”. He said that the government had strengthened security around key infrastructure and government sites in the East of Ukraine, successfully “localising” the intervention by foreign forces to the Crimea. He also stressed that while foreign forces were on the ground at both Crimean airports, the Ukrainian security services were actually in charge of the situation, and that the unmarked soldiers had not interfered with operations on site.
1233 GMT: A Russian corvette has been spotted in the entrance to Balaclava bay.
Look who turned up at entrance to Balaclava bay. Balaclava now. pic.twitter.com/ynDxZoJHjW
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) February 28, 2014
The vessel appears to be the Tarantul class corvette, Ivanovets.
1207 GMT: Vladimir Putin’s favourite biker gang, the Night Wolves, are on their way to the Crimea to rally support for a “Russian Spring”. According to their leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, known as Chirurg (surgeon):
“Tomorrow people will organise a ‘Russian Spring’ campaign, which will start in the town of Popasnaya. The convoy will start at eight o’clock in the morning and will travel through the entire eastern part of Ukraine”
Chirurg himself will go to Sevastopol, to support the local representatives of the Night Wolves club.
In addition, the Russian biker club plans to organise the delivery of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and quad-bikes shortly.
1150 GMT: The Euromaidan twitter account reports that “a couple of a dozen have quickly left their position at Simferopol Airport”
Пару десятков быстро покидают место у Симферопольского аэропорта. pic.twitter.com/yrLeB5dOcG
— ЄВРОМАЙДАН (@euromaidan) February 28, 2014
1140 GMT:Gazeta.ru has a detailed report up on a massive investment project proposed by the Russian government, for businesses to invest in Crimean industry and infrastructure. While the ministry insists that these proposals were drawn up prior to the current political crisis, they say that they were arranged with Yanukovych in December. Greater entrenchment of Russian involvement in Ukraine, especially those areas most strategically vital to Russian interests, would have been a logical long term plan while the future of the Yanukovych government was already looking uncertain at the time.
The Ministry of Economic Development has proposed to Russian oligarchs to pool money in the Crimea. $5 billion is needed to give a second life to the peninsular. A list of sites for investments has already been drawn up: ports, roads, hotels factories for the production of halva and oil… Officials assure that they will pay for themselves, in contrast to those in Sochi…
Almost half of the sites on the list are infrastructure, and very expensive. This is construction, the expansion and deepening of ports, the modernisation and construction of roads and railways. In other words, such investment projects that are within the power of only big business.
The work on the search for potential investors for the Crimea is not a reaction to the political events taking place there, explains the director of the department of the Economic Ministry on cooperation with the Customs Union and economic cooperation with CIS states, Aleksandr Tsybulsky.
The investment project was begun on December 17, following then President Yanukovych’s visit to Moscow, during which Russia agreed to provide Ukraine with a £15 billion loan.
1112 GMT: More reports of movement in Crimea from the BBC’s Daniel Sandford:
Just passed ten Russian military trucks full of men They were on the road heading from Sevastopol towards Simferopol.
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) February 28, 2014
1058 GMT: There has been more suspicious movement around the Crimea today. First reports of unmarked military trucks in the Sevastopol area, and secondly video footage of a large swarm of helicopters apparently heading towards Belbek Airport in Sevastopol.
— Alan Cullison (@AlanCullison) February 28, 2014
Whether these are Russian military helicopters, or Ukrainian forces deploying in response is unknown at the moment.
1045 GMT: The new Ukrainian Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, has made a statement on last night’s actions:
I am reporting on the situation by the end of the night to prevent rumors spreading:
1. Belbek Aiport. Cordoned off by military units from the Russian fleet. Inside the airport are Ukrainian military and border guards. The soldiers outside are camouflaged, armed and unmarked, but they are not hiding their affiliation. The airport is not functioning. There are Interior Ministry positions on the outer perimeter. There have not been any armed confrontations yet.
2. Simferopol Airport. At around midnight, a group of about 100 in civilian clothes, identifying themselves as a Cossack sotnia, got over the fence on the grounds of the airport and came out onto the airfield. Through the efforts of the Internal Troops and the police, these people were driven back, at first into an airport building, and then completely out of the area. Weapons were not used. The ‘Cossacks’ fled the airport area at around 1 am when they boarded tarp-covered KAMAZ trucks and left. At around 1.30 am several trucks arrived at the airport building with 119 camouflaged soldiers with automatic weapons and no markings. They entered the airport terminal and set up inside the restaurant. They are not hiding their affiliation to the armed forces of the Russian Federation. When questioned by Ukrainian Interior Ministry staff “you are soldiers and you have no right to be here”, they answered curtly that “we do not have instructions to negotiate with you”. The situation is static; neither side has used weapons. The Russian soldiers are passively observing the work at the airport, which is not being directly interfered with.
Internal troops and the Ukrainian Interior Ministry have strengthened details in the airport area. Tension is rising. Law enforcement authorities cannot confront regular military forces.
My assessment of what’s going on is that it is a MILITARY INVASION AND OCCUPATION IN VIOLATION OF ALL INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS AND NORMS. This is the direct provocation of armed bloodshed in the territory of a sovereign sate.