The Interpreter

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Russian troops near a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol. | Photo: March 7th, REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO

Ukraine Liveblog Day 18: Moscow and Washington Are Far Apart on Crimea

After an hour of speaking on the phone last night, US President Barack Obama and Russian PResident Vladimir Putin are no closer to finding a solution to this crisis.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day:


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0408 GMT: Earlier today, there were reports of the Internet being cut off in the Crimea. This afternoon at 4:30 pm local time, journalists confirming earlier reports that Russian Federation TV had taken over local channels in the Crimea.

LiveJournal blog lenta-ua reported at 4:30 pm that Nadir Dittanov, editor of ATR’s news and analysis programs, confirmed that the building where ATR and the news site 15minutes are located has had its Internet connection completely blocked.

Lenta-ua described a “partial news blockade” of Ukrainian television in Simferopol with the following substitutions:

Instead of 1+1 there is Russia’s Channel One
Instead of Black Sea TRK there is TV Russia 24
Instead of Channel 5 there is Russia’s RTR
Instead of Inter there is NTV World
Instead of Ukraine National Channel One there is TNT

For awhile the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR.ua was still showing an English-language World War II movie dubbed into Russian with a superimposed banner of the Ukrainian flag and a message alternating in Ukrainian and Russia, “United Country”. Then for a time it went dark, but is currently broadcasting an old silent movie.

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2048 GMT: More details about the beaten journalists:


2041 GMT: Time Magazine clears up some of these questions in a new report, in which they say that Russian soldiers stormed the base soon after dark, and within two hours had captured part of the installation:

“The attack is on,” says Colonel Viktor Kukharchenko, the deputy commander of another Ukrainian air force base in Crimea. “The Russian forces are now trying to take the rest of the base. Their commander is negotiating with our forces, demanding they lay down their arms and surrender.” He said he was not aware any shots being fired in the course of the attack. A spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry confirmed that the A-2355 base outside Sevastopol had been stormed by Russian troops late in the evening on Friday, adding that it houses a tactical aviation command center responsible for anti-aircraft defenses. He also said there were about 100 Ukrainian soldiers posted inside the base.

Kukharchenko said that the force attempting to seize the base includes Russian servicemen who are not wearing any identifying insignia, as they have refused to do throughout the weeklong occupation of Crimea by Russian forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his military has been surrounding Ukrainian bases in Crimea since the end of February, even though the vehicles of the occupying force have Russian license plates and some of its officers have told reporters they are from Russia.


2035 GMT: The debate now is who these gunmen who have stormed the Ukrainian base are. Are they Russian soldiers or Crimean paramilitary? We’ve seen reports that go either way, but several sources also say that it is a Russian commander who is doing the negotiating.

What we do know is that it is Russian forces that have been coordinating very closely with these paramilitary forces outside these bases. But if this crisis reaches the breaking point, Putin will have plausible deniability if he is accused of starting the bloodshed. Regardless, this could be the incident that is used as an excuse for Russian troops to take an even more active role in Crimea:

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2030 GMT: It’s dark, foggy, and angry gunmen are surrounding the base — it’s not a safe place for journalists at the moment:

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2013 GMT: Journalists are now in contact with the Ukrainian commander inside the besieged base in Sevastopol:


2007 GMT: For two days in a row, the Russian and pro-Russian paramilitary troops in Crimea have blocked OSCE inspectors to turn back from inspecting Crimea, and forced the UN envoy to Ukraine to flee the country at gunpoint. Now, the Russian Foreign Ministry says it is the OSCE that is guilty of “double standars. The Interpreter translates a report from Gazeta.ru:

The OSCE is demonstrating double standards regarding the situation in Ukraine, RIA Novosti reports, citing the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“A number of participating states and executive bodies of the OSCE have behaved in the worst traditions of double standards with regard to the situation in Ukraine. Despite their mandate, not a word has been said about the growth of nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiments, and of course, ‘they have not observed’ the violent actions of the extremist forces,” the Foreign Ministry stated.

The Ministry believes that international encouragement of stabilization of the situation in Ukraine may be effective “only in the event that it will be objective.” For that, the OSCE must condemn all violent actions of the “Maidanites,” declare the coup d’ etat in Kiev unlawful and work with various political forces in Ukraine to promote fulfillment of the 21 February agreement.


2004 GMT: Some additional details on what’s happening at this base:


1959 GMT: More details on the ongoing assault on a Ukrainian base:


1951 GMT: The Interpreter has translated a report from Pravda.com.ua about Russian paratroopers landing in large numbers near Sevastopol. The Ministry of Defense now confirms that a base near Sevastopol is under attack:

15 KamAZ with Russian Soldiers Landed at Kazachya Bay – 7 March 2014 21:06

Fifteen KamAZ vehicles with Russian soldiers have landed from a large landing ship of the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet in Kazachya Bay in Sevastopol.

As an informed source at the Ukrainian Navy told Interfax-Ukraine, aside from the 15 KamAzes, on the shore, where a brigade of the Russian Federal Black Sea Fleet naval infanry is based, several staff cars have also come off a large landing ship and headed toward the central part of town.

According to the source, the Russian Black Sea Fleet is continuing to accumulate forces and equipment.

As is known, on 5 March, more than 50 battle vehicles and about 500 Russian soldiers landed at kazachya Bay in Sevastopol from landing ships.

Meanwhile, on 5 May Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that except for the forces of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, there were no Russian forces in the Crimea.


1947 GMT: It’s not just Interfax and Pravda reporting this anymore:


1927 GMT: We’re still monitoring reports of a Russian attack on a Ukrainian military complex in Sevastopol. One problem we have is that, with all the journalists in Sevastopol, we have not seen a triangulating report.

Here are more details, a translation from the Interfax-Ukraine/Pravda report:

And more news via Interfax and Pravda:

This would not be the first time that Interfax-Ukraine of Pravda.com.ua got a story wrong by leading with unnamed sources inside the defense ministry in Kiev. It’s not debunked yet, but there is no confirmation of this news.


1909 GMT: More claims of Russian troops attacking Ukrainian bases in Crimea:

And now a new source:

Pravda.com.ua’s source is Interfax-Ukraine. We’ll continue to search for confirmation.


1905 GMT: Back from a media break to find that there are multiple (still unconfirmed) reports that Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian military installations in Crimea:


1642 GMT: Alexandr Podrabinek is a Russian journalist, human rights activist and editor-in-chief of Prima information agency. He says that Russia is prepared to do what it takes to expand its power, and even its borders, and the pretexts are simple rhetorical:

The search for pretexts for aggression is of secondary importance to the Kremlin, though. The current Russian authorities are so cynical that they will use any pretext at all and can, in fact, easily do without one. It is naive to believe that the Russian troops do not open fire because they are waiting for a pretext for doing so. The truth is quite simple: Putin prefers to annex Crimea with as little effort as possible. Why should he complicate the situation if it’s possible to conduct a “velvet occupation” without any military clashes? After all, the outcome will be the same. If, however, the need to open fire arises, Putin will not hesitate, as he demonstrated in Georgia in 2008 and in Chechnya before that.

Podrabinek goes on to argue that there is a way to stop Russia, but that window is closing:

Although Russia’s expansion can still be stopped, the window of opportunity has narrowed considerably. The situation has been neglected for too long. Ukraine’s options are limited: it can surrender in Crimea or put up a fight, involving the help of international forces in containing the aggressor. Although the global community has provided a start, the measures it offers are ones that should have been taken long ago. Today, Putin will see diplomatic steps and economic sanctions as proof of the West’s weakness in the face of open aggression. There is no surer way to bring on catastrophe than by appeasing an aggressor. Unfortunately, this is a truth only more or less clear to those who live in aggressive states. Putin has no use for the negotiations with his regime or the peace-support missions in Crimea that the West has been offering to conduct. Even if he chooses to accept these measures, he will do so only in order to play for time and participate in the international game. In reality, an aggressor only needs negotiations when he is destroyed and his position is beyond hope.

The potential destruction of the regime is the only thing that can contain an aggressor. As soon as the U.S. aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, along with two dozen U.S. warships, appeared in the Mediterranean, Putin ordered his forces in the Western and Central military districts to end exercises and return to their bases. The movement of Russian troops to the country’s Ukrainian borders has apparently been put on hold.

Read the entire article here.


1619 GMT: Since this crisis began, no media outlet has come under more scrutiny than the Russian state-owned propaganda/news channel RT. Even two of its anchors, Abby Martin and Liz Wahl, has criticized its coverage, with Martin saying she disagrees with how the media has covered the crisis (and inferring that RT is included in that) and Wahl outright quitting in protest of the “whitewashing” of Putin’s evil deeds. Journalist James Kirchick has written a long and in-depth article about RT — what it is, how it operates, and why its so problematic:

RT is, in a sense, a new move from an old playbook. American sympathy for authoritarian powers abroad has a long history. The Soviet Union had a serviceable ideology, communism, which appealed to people all over the world. But today’s Russia—in spite of President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to model it as the world’s defender of traditional values standing athwart a tide of liberal, Western homosexualist deviancy—offers no such global appeal. Contemporary Russia apologists define themselves more by what they stand against: America, liberal democratic capitalism, and the catchall of “western hegemony.” And in RT—the Kremlin-funded propaganda network formerly known as “Russia Today”—they have found a willing disseminator for their angry and conspiratorial worldview.

RT has become the go-to network for a particular species of disillusioned American, fed-up with what the “corporate media” is telling them about the world. According to the channel, the new, Western-friendly government in Kiev is chock full of fascists and neo-Nazis. Meanwhile, Russia’s blatantly unjustified and illegal occupation of Crimea—and its potential invasion of eastern Ukraine—is portrayed as a humanitarian mission. RT’s view of the situation has been indistinguishable from that of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s, which is what you would expect of a “news” network that is the personal pet project of Vladimir Putin.

And then, as part of his investigation, Kirchick went to RT’s headquarters to speak with some of RT’s employees — but RT’s security guards lied about what Kirchick was doing and tried to get him arrested. Hilarious and informative video below:

Read the entire article: Watch RT, Putin’s TV Network, Call the Cops on Me


1613 GMT: Yesterday we reported that the Crimean parliament had voted to split from Ukraine and join Crimea, but that they were putting the issue up to a vote, a referendum for the public to decide which will be held on March 16th. We reported that the referendum had two choices: to split from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, or to unify with Ukraine.

That’s actually not entirely accurate:

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Interestingly, the referendum does not include a choice to break from Ukraine and remain independent, which has been suggested by some in Crimea. Some analysts have suggested that this option was not included so that Crimeans would be more likely to vote to join with Russia.


1604 GMT: Since last Friday, free press has been under attack in Crimea. Earlier we shared video of reporters being attacked in Simferopol, a gun was put to their head and their equipment was stolen. Yesterday, a BBC journalist was detained — and sexually harassed — outside the surrounded Belbek airbase. Most concerning perhaps was when armed gunmen stormed a Crimean television station and representatives of the Russian government reportedly took over, replacing the independent news broadcasts with Russian state TV

Now, Ukrainian television may be under cyber-attack:

 

But cyber attacks against the Ukrainian media or the interim government in Kiev are nothing new since Yanukovych fled the country. The Interpreter has translated an article from the independent Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru on the rise in cyber crime and DDoS attacks in the last month.

Read it here: Hackers Join In the Struggle for Crimea


1531 GMT: A guided-missile destroyer, the USS Truxtun, has passed through the Bosphorus Strait on its way to the Black Sea. AFP reports:

The US Navy said in a statement on Thursday that the ship was bound for the Black Sea to conduct military exercises with Bulgarian and Romanian naval forces.

According to the Montreux Convention, warships of countries which do not border the Black Sea can only stay in the waters for 21 days.

USS Truxtun destroyer passes the Bosphorus Strait on her way to the Black Sea on March 7, 2014 in Istanbul (AFP, Bulent Kilic)
USS Truxtun destroyer passes the Bosphorus Strait on her way to the Black Sea on March 7, 2014 in Istanbul (AFP, Bulent Kilic)

1518 GMT: Andrei Illarionov, the senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Russian presidential aid says that Russia is trying to provoke violence in Ukraine to justify finalizing their takeover of Crimea, or even to justify military attacks beyond Crimea, and would even be willing to attack Russians with Russian troops to do it.

“Right now, Russian special forces from the 22nd Brigade are in Ukraine, and we should expect staged attacks on Russian soldiers and citizens… [Putin] wants to overthrow the government [in Kyiv] and start a civil war,” he said. “Why not? The reality is that Obama and the rest of the world will do nothing.”

Illarionov cites a famous historical example where Stalin used Russian artillery to shell the Russian town of Mainila in 1939 to justify the Soviet Invasion of Poland.

“It’s not just titushki [pro-Yanukovych and pro-Russian thugs], it’s not just Russian tourists who hang the Russian flag on various state buildings,” Illarionov told Ukrainian Channel 1+1. “These are groups of Russian special forces whose mission is to open fire on and kill Russian citizens and Russian soldiers in Ukraine.”

Illarionov cites a famous historical example where Stalin used Russian artillery to shell the Russian town of Mainila in 1939 to justify the Soviet Invasion of Poland.


1513 GMT: Armed gunmen have been caught on camera roughing up and pointing a gun at the head of journalists in Simferopol. The incident was caught on CCTV. Channel 4 reports:

“This was clearly television studio equipment. I quickly took a few photos on my phone, as they carried the equipment. One of the masked men approached me, put me on the ground, put a gun to his head to me and just took my phone and my friend’s camera.

“Then they returned to the van, the vehicle had no licence plate, and they left.”

He added; “Here now, the military situation there is no law. People who do this, clearly are not subject to any laws.”


1504 GMT: Russia has repeatedly said that they don’t have troops in Crimea outside of “normal positions,” but yet Moscow has spent a lot of time defending a “peacekeeping” and “security” mission that they say doesn’t exist. Regardless, The United Nations and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) have tried to send observers to Crimea to ensure, among other things, that minority groups, including ethnic Russians, are being protected. And yet these not-Russian-but-yes-they’re-Russian troops have repeatedly blocked inspectors from reaching Crimea.

That pattern repeats today:

 

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1456 GMT: Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says that the government in Kiev will not recognize a referendum, to be held on March 16, on the issue of Crimea’s rejoining Russia.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said on Friday Ukraine was open to talks with Russia as long as it withdrew its troops and abided by international agreements.

In a warning to the “separatist and other traitors of the Ukrainian state”, he said: “Any decision of yours is deliberately unlawful and unconstitutional and no-one in the civilised world will recognise the decision of the so-called referendum of the so-called Crimean authorities”.