While the world waits to see what happens after Crimea’s March 16th referendum on joining Russia, there is plenty of activity in Ukraine. Russia continues to establish its stronghold in Crimea, while Kiev is arresting former government officials and has now issued arrest warrants for leaders of the Crimean government. Meanwhile, both sides continue to prepare for a military showdown that the world is trying to avoid.
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:
2001 GMT: We’ve been tracking the economic impact of Russia’s actions on Russia’s already slow economy. Sergei Guriev, a professor of Economics and former Rector at the New Economic School in Moscow, writes that Russia is already paying a steep price for its actions, and the price tag may ultimately be too high:
A direct cost of this magnitude amounts to less than 0.5% of Russia’s GDP. While not trivial, Russia can afford it. Russia just spent $50 billion dollars on the Sochi Olympics and plans to spend even more for the 2018 World Cup. It was prepared to lend $15 billion to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government and to provide $8 billion annually in gas subsidies.
Then there are the costs related to the impact of sanctions on trade and investment. Though the scope of the sanctions remains uncertain, the effect could be enormous. Annual inward foreign direct investment is estimated to have reached $80 billion in 2013. A significant decline in FDI – which brings not only money but also modern technology and managerial skills – would hit Russia’s long-term economic growth hard. And denying Russian banks and firms access to the US (and possibly European) banking system – the harshest sanction applied to Iran – would have a devastating impact.
In the short run, however, it is trade that matters much more than investment. Russia’s annual exports (mostly oil, gas, and other commodities) are worth almost $600 billion, while annual imports total almost $500 billion. Any non-trivial trade sanctions (including sanctions on Russian financial institutions) would be much more painful than the direct cost of subsidizing Crimea. Of course, sanctions would hurt Russia’s trading partners, too. But Russia’s dependence on trade with the West is certainly much larger than vice versa.
Guriev also argues that Putin’s actions are improvisations, and that Putin has not planned for these costs. This is an important point, however. Others have argued that this is not an unplanned action, which means that Putin has already estimated the costs of his actions in Ukraine. Regardless, if sanctions are less painful than Putin has anticipated, then the high costs may not phase him at all. If the costs are greater than what he anticipated, however, they could have a direct impact on Putin’s decision making.
1946 GMT: The Russian military continues to plan as if the Crimean referendum will definitely pass:
— Stuart Webb (@Worldwidewebb1) March 11, 2014
— Nikolaus von Twickel (@niktwick) March 11, 2014
1942 GMT: What’s remarkable about the interaction between the Russian government and the Crimean government, some of which was installed at gunpoint, is that the links between the two are so painfully transparent, despite repeated denial from the Russian government:
— Courtney Weaver (@courtneymoscow) March 11, 2014
1936 GMT: The Crimean parliament has banned “Right Sector” and several other “neo-Nazi organizations,” adding them to the “international wanted list.” Russian state-owned ITAR-TASS reports:
“Crimea is shocked by the chaos that prevails in many Ukrainian regions,” the press service said, adding “The statement by the Right Sector extremist group arouses serious concern because its actions lead to escalation of violence on the peninsula.”
1934 GMT: Last week, on March 6th, an ‘open podium’ debate was held in Russia on the situation in Ukraine. Speakers discussed how Russia could “help Ukraine survive these tragic times” and set the country onto the “path to a peaceful settlement”. The Russian government daily newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, has provided an article entitled “Without Arrogance,” describing the conference. Interestingly, however, RG has deleted the article so we have translated it and linked to a cached copy.
1805 GMT: The leader of the Crimean Tatars has once again reiterated his call to boycott the March 16th referendum, a vote on whether Crimea should join Russia:
“The result has already been decided by Moscow,” Refat Chubarov told Reuters in an interview on Monday in the Crimean capital Simferopol, where he heads the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, a Ukrainian public body that represents some 12 percent of the Black Sea peninsula’s two million people.
“There are troops in the streets. There are 30,000 armed men, armored vehicles, planes landing with foreign troops, and the administrative buildings have all been seized,” he said of last week’s takeover of Crimea by Russian forces following the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian president in Kiev.
“It’s a fake referendum, an attempt to provide cover for this aggression,” Chubarov said, arguing that voting would mean betraying a Ukrainian state whose interim government says local leaders had no right to call the referendum. “The whole of Crimea is being asked to become collective collaborators.”
The Kyiv Post also thinks that the referendum provides a false dichotomy that they describe as “join Russia immediately or declare independence and then join Russia.”
The ballot asks two questions and leaves no option for a “no” vote. Voters are simply asked to check one of two boxes:
Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation?
Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?
That Constitution declares that Crimea is an independent state.
In other words, voting yes to the second option would effectively be a vote for independence, and once independent the leadership of Crimea, which has been put in place by Russian gunmen, will simply opt to become part of Russia anyway — it’ll just take a little more time and a few extra maneuvers.
It’s worth noting that the Constitution of 1992 provoked Ukraine to threaten military action, and it was soon replaced.
1745 GMT: The Kyiv Post reports that a man with a Russian passport has been arrested in the Donetsk Oblast yesterday on charges that he was “preparing explosions and orchestrating other acts of diversion”:
“The danger of the detainee is that he’s not just a regular guy, he’s a trained, professional saboteur,” [SBU Chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko] said. “And this individual walked about the land of miners with explosives and set up diversion groups to prepare explosions in public places where masses of people had gathered.”
Nalyvaichenko said the man was a member of a “foreign special service” and has organized a number of extremist groups in eastern Ukraine. He has also allegedly supplied the groups with explosives and weapons.
1503 GMT: A mixed day for Russia’s economic outlook, which took a serious hit in the last several weeks. Reuters reports:
At 0810 GMT the ruble-denominated MICEX index was down 1 percent to 1,326 points, while the dollar-denominated RTS index had fallen 0.9 percent to 1,148 points.
“The forecast for the week is weakness and volatility,” BCS analysts said in a note. “On the markets there will probably be nervousness in advance of the referendum on Crimea, in line with strengthening of rhetoric and political declarations.”
The ruble, on the other hand, is back to growing, though slowly, after a free-fall in February:
At 0810 GMT the ruble was 0.2 percent stronger at 36.40 against the dollar, and 0.3 percent stronger at 50.43 against the euro.
It had gained 0.3 percent to 42.71 against the dollar-euro basket.
“Basically the ruble is trading more or less in line with other emerging market FX,” said Maxim Korovin, fixed income analyst at VTB Capital.
1449 GMT: An online poll with the questions of this Sunday’s referendum has already produced an overwhelming response of 78% for joining Russia, and 24% for staying in Ukraine, zn.ua reported.
Yes, the numbers add up to 102%. The Center for Journalist Investigation reported that in less than a day, more than 25,000 managed to vote in the poll.
1446 GMT: Pro-Moscow leaflets are already being widely distributed explaining how people should vote in the upcoming referendum Sunday, RBK reports.
Вы хотите повышения зарплаты в 3 раза? Тогда отвечайте да. pic.twitter.com/WW925xxExj
— Информагентство РБК (@ru_rbc) March 11, 2014
Translation: @ru_rbc Do you want a triple pay raise? Answer yes.
Leaflet Text: Sunday 16 March. We will chose a future for our children. Give two answers to two questions.
1. Are you for reunification of the Crimea with Russia with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation? Answer YES!
2. Are you for restoration of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of the Crimea and for the status of the Crimea as a part of Ukraine? Answer NO!
Answer YES to the first question, NO to the second question and we will go into Russia, we will have the pensions and wages of Russia. The average wage of Russians is 6000 hryvnia, and the size of the pension is 2400 hryvnia. Mighty Russia will protect our families. As a part of a mighty, multi-national country, our culture and traditions will be protected.
If you answer NO to the first question and YES to the second, we will once again return to 1992, when the Ukrainian neo-Nazis through blackmail and bribery gradually stripped us of everything. Already starting in April of this year, residents of Ukraine will face a price hike of double for gas and 40% higher for electricity, and an increase in the pension age by 3 years. All benefits and supplements are being liquidated.
We want to live, and not survive!
Russia – YES!
Ukraine – NO!
1442 GMT: Last week several RT.com anchors, Abby Martin and Liz Wahl, criticized Russia’s intervention into Ukraine. Liz went further, quitting the Russian state-owned news/propaganda outlet and slamming both RT and the Russian government in the press.
In this week’s podcast, Boston College Professor Matt Sienkiewicz and Interpreter Magazine’s managing editor James Miller examine the media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, especially at developments in the Russian media outlets, many of which are widely seen as promoting the Kremlin’s propaganda.
Open the podcast in a new tab to see links to other podcasts and to subscribe to the show, or listen below:
1417 GMT: Vladimir Sadovnik, commander of the automobile battalion of the Ukrainian Navy in Bakhchisaray, reported missing since yesterday, has been found along with some Crimean “volunteers,” Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov announced on his Facebook page, according to a report from news.liga.net. Sadovnik was brought back to the base by a “self-defense” group headed by Russian Federation Col. Makagonov, accompanied by several other Ukrainian soldiers.
“The representatives of the Crimean self-defense arrived and after firing several shots in the air, broke into the auto battalion base. After lining up the personnel loyal to him from the base, Sadovnik announced, ‘Who is with me, step forward.’ Several soldiers of the base stepped forward,” Seleznyov wrote.
Officers and contract workers from various regions of Ukraine remained in the line-up, and Sadovnik then told those against him to leave the base. The flag of the Russian Federation has been raised in place of the Ukrainian Navy flag.
Seleznyov said Sadovnik and other soldiers loyal to him were loading up fuel, radio equipment and other military wares to take away from the base.
1402 GMT: Want to catch a flight to the Crimean peninsula? Good luck, unless you’re Russian. All flights into Crimea’s airports have reportedly been cancelled, except those to and from Russia. AFP reports that only flights connecting to Moscow are still operating at Simferopol airport:
— Susan Ormiston (@OrmistonOnline) March 11, 2014
— Pierre Crom (@PierreCrom) March 11, 2014
1355 GMT: Jews attacked in Ukraine? synagogues destroyed? Antisemitism on the rise? Is everyone telling lies? Is it impossible to tell what’s really going on in Ukraine?
Well, don’t believe everything that you read. We look into three articles, published in major western media outlets, that are chock-full of misinformation, disinformation, distortions, or outright lies. The simple reality is that some outlets that are claiming the things I’ve mentioned above have ignored or distorted facts in order to make a moral-equivalency argument — that we can’t really tell what’s going on in Ukraine, and one side is as bad as the other.
Read our separate analysis, The Backlash of Moral Equivalency on Ukraine: The pushback on those exposing Putin’s myths about Ukraine.
1320 GMT: Ousted president Viktor Yanukovych spoke on Tuesday, reiterating that he is the legitimate leader of Ukraine, that the interim government in Kiev is illegitimate, and that the problems in Crimea are a direct result of actions in Kiev:
“You do not have any legal grounds to provide financial assistance to these bandits,” Mr. Yanukovych said, specifically questioning a $1 billion pledge from the United States to Ukraine. He cited an American law prohibiting aid to governments that take power in a coup…
Mr. Yanukovych has mostly remained in hiding since he fled Ukraine, and his public role in the conflict has been so marginalized that he began his remarks by dismissing rumors of his ill health and even death. “I am alive,” he said, going on to dispute the legality of the actions the Parliament took after a European-brokered agreement on Feb. 21 collapsed. “And I have not been impeached, according to the Ukrainian Constitution.”
1313 GMT: Inforesist.org has posted a video uploaded March 9th by user Twit Rusnat that purports to show Vladimir Sadovnik, the commander of the Bakhchisaray, in a severely intoxicated state. Reportedly he was stopped on the road by Crimean police loyal to Sergei Aksyonov, the self-appointed head of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Sadovnik was reportedly driving an ATV and struck another vehicle participating in a race in support of the Crimean referendum. He then scuffled with passers-by and was apprehended by police.
1309 GMT: The Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday issued a statement of outrage about what they said was an attack by the ultranationalist Ukrainian group Right Sector in Kharkiv, gazeta.ru reported.
“We are outraged in Russia at the lawlessness which now reigns in the eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of actions by fighters from the so-called Right Sector with the total collusion of the new authorities, as they call themselves. It has reached the point that on 8 March in Kharkiv, well-equipped people in masks with firearms opened fire on peaceful demonstrators,” said the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement is based on a report by LifeNews (see video above), a tabloid TV company close to the Kremlin, which reported on 8 March that demonstrators from a group calling itself Left Sector were attacked and wounded on Pravdy Avenue in Kharkiv following a pro-Russian demonstration. According to LifeNews, which appears to be the only source for the story picked up by Russian bloggers, 3 men and 3 women were suddenly attacked by 8 men in masks who jumped out of a Volkswagen wielding pipes, bats and guns. One Left Sector activist, said to be named Pavel Khaylo reportedly suffered a gunshot to the back and was hospitalized, and others were beaten, a man who said he was a victim of the attack told LifeNews.
But independent journalists and activists in Kharkiv have not been able to confirm the details of the attack or the report of a person wounded. They also say that Right Sector activists were not known to have been in the city. According to one account, an incident involving gunfire was reported elsewhere on Olympiyskaya Street, but no injuries were recorded. Locals believe that provocations are being staged to justify Russian military occupation.
1300 GMT: Ukraine’s interim government in Kiev has established a new NAtional Guard in an effort to boost a military that they believe is in disrepair and is not ready to stand up to Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Kiev is asking the US and the EU for help. Reuters reports:
Parliament passed a resolution calling on the United States and Britain, co-signatories with Russia of that treaty to “fulfill their obligations … and take all possible diplomatic, political, economic and military measures urgently to end the aggression and preserve the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine”.
NATO powers – and the authorities in Kiev – have made clear they want to avoid a military escalation with Moscow, which has denied its troops are behind the takeover of Crimea 10 days ago by separatist forces – a denial ridiculed by other governments.
The European Union and United States have been preparing sanctions against Russia, though with some reluctance, especially in Europe, which values commercial ties with Moscow.
The acting Prime Minister also made a strong case for why NATO should intervene to protect Ukraine — Ukraine has been a model for denuclearization, and if the experiment fails it will hurt the efforts elsewhere:
Acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who will visit the White House and United Nations Security Council this week, said a 1994 treaty under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear weapons obliged Russia to remove troops from Crimea and also obliged Western powers to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.
He said a failure to protect Ukraine would undermine efforts to persuade Iran or North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons as Kiev did 20 years ago. The terms of the Budapest Memorandum oblige Russia, Britain and the United States as guarantors to seek U.N. help for Ukraine if it faces attack by nuclear weapons.
And while Ukraine feels unprepared for war…
— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 11, 2014
…Russia is just gearing up:
— Ukrainian Updates (@Ukroblogger) March 11, 2014