Ukraine Liveblog Day 19: Nerves of Steel Tested

March 8, 2014
OSCE are turned back from entering Crimea on March 7, 2014 | @cstreib

Last night, Russian troops and Crimean paramilitaries stormed a Ukrainian base near Sevastopol, Crimea. Despite the increasingly aggressive activity of the Russian forces in Crimea, the Ukrainian military has not surrendered, and has not fired at their assaulters — perhaps staving off a civil war.

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:


2148 GMT:
ATR

ATR

After a day with its Internet site down, the Crimean Tatar TV station ATR was broadcasting again evidently from a different address on a server outside Moscow. The station aired footage from 8 March at 14:00 showing dozens of Russian military trucks on the highway from Feodosiya to Simferopol, as reported earlier by AP.

ATR

ATR


ATR also showed a rally of “Women of the Crimea for Peace” on 8 March, with interviews of Russian speakers who said they were showing just white balloons and scarves and not national flags to stress the need for all ethnic groups to have peace.

The station also showed footage of a pro-Moscow rally yesterday of 15,000 people featuring the Black Sea Fleet Ensemble, at which the leader of the Autonomous Crimean Republic was expected to speak. An ATR anchor commented that far from convoying a sense of joy, such rallies were “an artificially-created holiday” that led to a feeling of unease. Also broadcast were interviews 6 March with young men, both Crimean Tatars and Russians, who expressed concern about finding seasonal work in the Crimea’s tourist industry given the uncertain situation. Also shown were some Ukrainian protesters who came to Simferopol, and a group of Ukrainian Orthodox priests who pleaded for peace in the Crimea.



2148 GMT: Here’s a video uploaded to YouTube today showing assailants holding a gun to a journalist’s head. The video is labeled “Aksyonov’s Cossacks attack foreign journalists.”

Channel 4 reported that “paramilitaries and Russian Cossacks attack journalists”:

CCTV footage has been released showing the moment a masked paramilitary holds a gun to the head of a Bulgarian journalist.

The shocking scenes played out on the streets of Simferopol, near the parliament building, after a camera crew was told to stop filming by a group of masked an armed men.

According to eyewitness account, the crew were beaten at gunpoint and had their equipment loaded into a white van. The paramilitaries then turned their attention to two photographers on the opposite side of the street.


2037 GMT: More Ukrainian forces on the move? This was reportedly filmed today in Bila Tserkva, south of Kiev (map):


2032 GMT: Today is International Women’s Day (which was originally a socialist holiday most celebrated in Russia), and it is commemorated today by Ukrainian soldiers in various ways:

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These soldiers are also reportedly on one of the bases in Crimea that is surrounded by Russian soldiers:

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2015 GMT: There has been a shooting in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine:

The Russian news outlet LifeNews, an outlet with close ties to the Russian security apparatus, reports on the incident. Their headline: “About 10 men with firearms and bats attacked activists returning from a rally against the acting government in Kiev.” (translated by The Interpreter):

Presumably Right Sector activists opened fire in the center of Kharkiv and attacked citizens returning from a rally in support of a referendum to join Russia.

Among those participating in the rally were representatives of the so-called “Left Sector.” Three of them were in a car returning from the center of town and stopped on Pravdy Avenue in order to congratulate women with the 8 March holiday.

“At that moment, a Volkswagen van approached out of which jumped 7-8 people with bats and guns. They opened fire, wounding my comrade in the back!” recounts one of the victims.

According to the Left Sector activist, the attackers were masked, moved rapidly and disregarded the fact that women were standing nearby.

“The threatened to kill us, beat us with pipes and bats! I covered my head with my arms, and therefore got blows to the arms. We didn’t manage to understand anything,” said the Left Sector activist. “The girls were standing next to us, and it was the center of town after all — anyone could have suffered. My friend was wounded in the back, he is in the hospital now.”

As the victim recalls, the shooters left as quickly as they had attacked. Someone gave the command, and the young people immediately ran back to the van. The man is convinced: they were beaten by Right Sector activists.

“This was Right Sector from the city of Dnepropetrovsk — the first letters of the license of the car correspond to the region. Furthermore, we have information that a group of fighters came in fact from Dnepropetrovsk to Kharkov, so-called titushki,” said the man.

We will recall that today, about 15,000 residents of Kharkiv turned out for a peaceful rally against the Maidan supporters who have usurped power in Ukraine.

The people who gathered at Svoboda Square in Kharkiv demanded a law be passed on a referendum. They held the flags of Russia and Ukraine, and showed posters that said “Fascism Will Not Pass” and “Russians Are Our Brothers” and “We Support Crimea” and “Referendum”.

The demonstrators protested against the Eurointegration of Ukraine and entry into NATO, and spoke in favor of joining the [Eurasian] Customs Union.

The entry to the Kharkov Regional State Administration building was cordoned off by police in helmets bearing shields. Several buses full of policemen were also parked on the square, which had come from the Western regions of Ukraine.

Zurab Alasania writes from Kharkiv today (translated by The Interpreter):

Kharkhov performed its rally for “federalization” today.

At various times on Svoboda Square today between 500 and 5,000 gathered, moving from the Lenin statue to the Regional Administration building and back. A few flaneurs also went along Sumskaya Street to the City Council after the main rally.

Some outfitted people were at the rally. Not a lot. But they were there. Despite the declaration that “we do not intend to storm government buildings” it seems that they simply didn’t risk it, because there were a lot of police.
They announced a “referendum for federalization” (completely coincidentally scheduled for 16 March). And on 30 March, a “Popular Veche” [Assembly] will chose a new government on the square.

However, the rally went by without any excesses. Igor Baluta (the new governor of Kharkiv Oblast) did not come out to speak to the demonstrators (and he did the right thing — they would have hardly received him joyfully, all the more because the RF TV camera crews, which were about to leave, would have flown at them like bees (or like flies, choose yourself) and would have happily shot the scene. Especially because the entire thing was put on only for the sake of the TV pictures.

When about 1,500 or so remained, “peacefully plowing Soviet tractors with vertical take-off” arrived — the municipal street-cleaning trucks, which hastened the dispersal of the rally.

Something strange happened an hour ago behind the State Industry building — unidentified persons attacked a car with “anti-fascists” who were coming back from the rally. They broke the window with bats, and shot off guns (there are wounded who have been taken to the ER).

Taking into account that a large number of those attending the rally were…hmm…dressed in Adidas track suits — once can surmise simply that it was the right moment for a “showdown” between [them].

But you can also surmise that a “third force” has formed in the city. Because only RF TV could believe that these are the actions of EuroMaiden supporters.

I do not know who decided to act so wildly as the “party of war”; I can only guess who needs to demonstrate “peace in the city” most of all. If that is the case, then the demonstrations likely will be demonstratively brutal, in order to discourage those wishing to be “separatists.”
For now, the atmosphere in the city is not good and not safe for everybody.

But I think Kharkiv can prevail at the internal level of its defense, and no proclamations of “independent republic of Kharkiv” or “the 9th Federal District in the YouKnowWhat” will take place.

It’s another matter that it is practically impossible to predict the scenarios after 16 March. Neither in the Crimea or in Kharkiv. They correspond a lot.

PS. – A certain dark foreboding for tomorrow as well: at noon a pro-Russian rally will assemble again on Svoboda Square and outside Taras, at the same time, EuroMaidan will gather to march, as announced, through the Shevchenko Garden to the rock and flag, next to the metro exit on the University side. Then on to the great flag of Ukraine, which is next to Cossack Kharko, and then back to Taras. The crossing of the paths is obvious, why and who needs this is not comprehensible.

More context:


2010 GMT: Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense confirms what we reported earlier, that a convoy of forces have moved out of their base in Lviv. However, they claim it was a training mission.

A convoy of BTR's leave their base in Lviv |  zaxid.net

A convoy of BTR’s leave their base in Lviv | zaxid.net


1951 GMT: The Ukrainian forces in Crimea have still not fired upon the forces that have attacked them, surrounded them, and threatened them. Yesterday, an air defense base was attacked. Those inside the base say it was stormed by Russian soldiers, as do journalists who were there. Now, Russian authorities, who maintain that there are no Russian troops outside of their bases in Crimea, are claiming that MANPADS, hand-held surface-to-air missiles, were stolen from the base in Lviv. It looks, however, like this is more misinformation, at least according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense:


1915 GMT: It is not hyperbole to say that Russia and Ukraine are closer to war today than they have been since this crisis started. While war is not inevitable, many are asking what it would look like if it happened.

RFE/RL has written an entire article about the subject. One key thing to remember, however, is that the Ukrainian military, while outmatched, is not incapable of defending itself:

Mark Galeotti, a Moscow-based regional expert with the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, estimates Russia might be able to muster a force twice the size of Ukraine’s for any war. That leaves open the possibility that the difference in strength might not be so overwhelming as to guarantee victory.

With that in mind, RFE/RL provides this chart:

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If Galeotti is correct, and we cut Russia’s numbers in half, and we assume that Ukraine’s military remains loyal to the government in Kiev, then in at least a few of those categories the mismatch between Russia and Ukraine is not nearly as overwhelming as one might expect.

Read RFE/RL’s Explainer: How Do Russia’s And Ukraine’s Armies Compare?


1855 GMT: This video, reportedly taken on MArch 5th in Donetsk Oblast, reportedly shows the Ukrainian military deploying 9A317 TELARs equipped, likely, with Buk-M2E or Buk-M2EK surface-to-air missiles.

A Reddit forum is collecting other videos that reportedly show the moblization of Ukrainian forces today. This reportedly shows Ukrainian APCs mobilizing from their base near Lviv, western Ukraine:

This video was reportedly taken in Zhitomir, west of Kiev, only about 75 miles from the border with Belarus (map). It reportedly shows the mobilization fo the 95th airmobile brigade:

Two armies are now in the move in Ukraine. Even though Russia’s military is far superior to Ukraine’s, unlike Russian intervention in Georgia, Ukraine is capable of making Russia pay for any advance onto mainland Ukraine.


1851 GMT: A Ukrainian border patrol aircraft was shot at earlier today near Crimea. Reuters reports:

A Ukrainian border patrol plane came under fire while flying at about 1,000 metres near the administrative border with Russian-occupied Crimea on Saturday, the border guards said as the crisis in the region deepened.

No one was hurt when gunmen opened fire on the unarmed aircraft, a spokesman said. The Diamond light aircraft was flying three crew on an observation mission, the spokesman said.


1845 GMT: The AP reports on the swelling of Russian forces in Crimea, and their movement northward:

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told AP that witnesses had reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea on Friday night after apparently having crossed the Straits of Kerch, which separates Crimea from Russian territory.

“Neither the equipment, nor the paratroopers have insignia that identify them as Russian, but we have no doubt as to their allegiance,” Seleznyov said.

The amphibious operation appeared to be one of the largest movements of Russian military forces since they appeared in Crimea a week ago.

Seleznyov also said a convoy of more than 60 military trucks was spotted Saturday heading from Feodosia toward Simferopol, the regional capital. An AP reporter caught up with the convoy and trailed it to Russian-controlled airfield. In the rear of the vehicles, heavily armed soldiers could be seen, though none appeared to have identifying badges or insignia. Soldiers spat at the reporters following them.


1826 GMT: This could be more evidence that large convoys moving through Crimea today are, in fact, Russian:

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1654 GMT: Hackers have been engaged in full-scale cyber warfare in Ukraine, and mostly it’s independent media and the interim government that are the targets. Five Ukrainian or Tatar TV stations have been taken over by gunmen who have replaced their broadcast with Russian state-owned TV channels. Journalists have been attacked, harassed, or had their equipment stolen. The AP now reports that their attempts to establish a satellite uplink from Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, was disrupted by gunmen:

Two other men then came and took photos of AP’s equipment, including protective jackets, and accused the crew of being spies.

Later, armed men showed up and ordered the crew to put their hands against the wall while they cut cables and took the equipment away. Some of the equipment has been recovered, but much is still missing. The contractors and employees were kept at the building for about two hours before being released unharmed.

Meanwhile, international observers are being blocked from entering Crimea by Russian troops and pro-Russian militiamen. The bottom line is that, as Russian troops are on the move, the forces that now control Crimea do not want the world to know what’s really happening there, and want to silence their opposition.


1643 GMT: More signs of Russian troops in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, between Crimea and the mainland — via Novaya Gazeta:

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1639 GMT: While Russia has taken over territory in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, pro-Ukraine protests have been held today in the capital of Crimea, in stark contrast to the pro-Russia protests that have been held there since Russian troops took over last Friday:

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1632 GMT: This video was reportedly taken at a checkpoint at Chongar today. Civilians wearing Ukrainian flags seem to be challenging unmarked soldiers at the checkpoint, though we’d note that the unarmed soldiers in the video appear to be wearing Ukrainian naval insignias (we can’t be 100% sure without a better closeup of their uniforms):


1610 GMT: More reports from Chongar (or Chonhar) where Novaya Gazeta reports that Russian troops have places Russian flags and established a minefield between the town on Chongar and the village of Mykolaivka, north of there. Effectively, this closes off one of the major routes that Ukrainian forces would have to take in order to reach the Crimean peninsula (map).

Novaya Gazeta posts these pictures of the minefield:

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So this report confirms the report we carried earlier that Russian troops and APCs are now in control of territory north of Crimea, in the Kherson region.

More pictures:

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1603 GMT: Anshel Pfeffer reported a convoy north of Simferopol two hours ago, now this convoy was spotted east of Simferopol. Are these different convoys or the same one at different times?

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What we know is that large military convoys are on the move in Crimea, and they are headed north. Though the reports that they have already captured territory north of Crimea is unconfirmed (read previous update) it is clear that Russian troops are headed in the direction of mainland Ukraine.

Also note the earlier reports of more Russian troops on the way to Crimea from just across the Taman Bay, and we could be looking at a massive escalation of the Russian military.


1555 GMT: This is an unconfirmed report that the Russians are already invading into new territory, beyond Crimea:

The report says that the village of Chonhar (map), on the road between Simferopol and mainland Ukraine, has already fallen.

Again, it is unconfirmed, but in context of these other reports of troop movements, it is concerning.


1550 GMT: These headlines are alarming — there are massive movements of Russian troops both inside Crimea and in Russian territory leading to Crimea. Here are more reports on the movements inside Crimea by Haaretz report Anshel Pfeffer, who is on the ground:

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An important detail:

AP is also reporting the troop movements — note the missing license plates:

A convoy of military vehicles bearing no license plates travels on the road from Feodosia to Simferopol in the Crimea, Ukraine, Saturday, March 8, 2014. Photo by AP

A convoy of military vehicles bearing no license plates travels on the road from Feodosia to Simferopol in the Crimea, Ukraine, Saturday, March 8, 2014. Photo by AP


1540 GMT: A massive column of Russian troop carriers, APCs, and support vehicles have been filmed, reportedly on the road between Krasnodar to Novorossiysk (map), in Russia just east of Crimea. With Russian troops in firm control of the ferry routes between the Taman Bay and Kerch, the eastern-most point in Crimea, this begs the obvious question:

Is this an invasion force, prepared for the final Russia push into Crimea, or perhaps beyond?


1533 GMT: Last night, outside the Ukrainian missile defense base that was attacked by Russian troops and Cossak paramilitaries in Crimea, several journalists were reportedly beaten by armed gunmen. It became clear to many other journalists in the area that the danger was too great to continue to film.

Now, video shows part of the attack on the journalists. It’s of remarkably high quality considering how dark and foggy it was last night:


1525 GMT: More evidence that the situation may have indeed changed in Crimea overnight. Sky News Senior Correspondent Alex Rossi reports significant troop movement today.

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100 vehicles? Since we’ve been watching this crisis unfold, this may be the largest troop movement inside Crimea since Russian troops spilled out of their bases last Friday.


1514 GMT: Things have changed significantly in the Crimea since the sun went down last night. First, Russian forces broke through the gate of a Ukrainian missile defense base last night and captured part of the installation.

Reuters reports that a Ukrainian border post east of the Crimean peninsula was also captured last night:

“The situation is changed. Tensions are much higher now. You have to go. You can’t film here,” said a Russian soldier carrying a heavy machine gun, his face covered except for his eyes, at a Ukrainian navy base in Novozernoye.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Saturday Poland had evacuated its consulate in Sevastopol due to “continuing disturbances by Russian forces”.

About 100 armed Russians are keeping watch over the Ukrainians at the base, where a Russian ship has been scuttled at the entrance to keep the Ukrainians from sailing out.

“Things are difficult and the atmosphere has got worse. The Russians threaten us when we go and get food supplies and point their guns at us,” said Vadim Filipenko, the Ukrainian deputy commander at the base.

CNN reports on another installation under siege in eastern Crimea, in Kerch:

The troops beat up the senior officer on duty at the Schelkino border control point, near the city of Kerch, when he tried to stop them, the State Border Guard Service said on its website. Russian forces are now in control of the premises, it said.

The border service said about 100 armed Russian military and 50 members of Crimean “self-defense” forces are continuing to blockade a ferry crossing point near Kerch, a port on the strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. This is being used to bring in Russian troops and military vehicles, it said.

And still the Ukrainian defense forces have not fired a shot, likely preventing an all-out war.


1505 GMT: Over the last few days, Russian occupiers in Crimea have turned back efforts made by the UN and OSCE to inspect and monitor events in Crimea in order to ensure that no minorities were falling victim to violence, as Russia claims. And despite this, the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the OSCE of having “double standards.”

Today, the OSCE was once again turned back from their mission in Crimea — but this time there was gunfire.