Ukraine Liveblog Day 30: Ukraine Military Bases Under Siege

March 19, 2014

Following an attack on a Ukrainian military cartography building in Simferopol that left a Ukrainian soldier and a member of Crimea’s defence forces dead, the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol has been taken over. Will other military installations also come under attack?

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story 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:

2034 GMT: The United Nations Security Council has been talking about this crisis. Frankly, we’ve been only half listening, as these UNSC meetings have become procedural and predictable shows, where each country reiterates what it has already said, and there are hardly any surprises.

Except for this:

2022 GMT: Yesterday we reported that members of the Svoboda party attacked the CEO of a Ukrainian broadcast news company, forcing him to resign. Today, Amnesty International condemned the incident. International Business Times reports:

Amnesty International has urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the violent assault from lawmakers of the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) Party on Oleksandr Panteleymonov, head of the First National TV Channel.

Dramatic footage showed at least five ultranationalists, including Igor Miroshnichenko, beating Panteleymonov over the public broadcasting of Vladimir Putin and pro-Russian Crimea leaders signing the annexation treaty.

Panteleymonov was accused of serving Putin and being “Moscow trash”. The mob then forced him to sign a letter of resignation.

Ironically, Miroshnichenko is a member of the parliamentary Committee on freedom of speech.

2005 GMT: Vice News’s Simon Ostrovsky files his 15th dispatch. It covers a lot of ground, from the day after the referendum, to Russia’s annexing of Crimea, to the funeral for a Crimean Tatar killed after he protested the presence of Russian soldiers. But the last half of the dispatch covers the shooting of a Ukrainian soldier by Russian-military backed gunmen last night. In the dispatch one can see that Western journalists are sometimes greeted well, other times with distrust, and still other times with outright hostility:

1945 GMT: Today’s agitprop alert…

The Kremlin-linked Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) goes on to say that all of the following US states have asked for independence:

“Florida, Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Montana, Oregon, Missouri, Colorado, Mississippi, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Dakota, Georgia, Arkansas and New York. The next day they were joined by Alaska, from California, Nevada, Arizona, Delaware, Wyoming, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.”

This news alert is based on petitions posted to, though it’s not clear what petitions.

By this logic, does this mean that the Kremlin will soon annex Florida? Or how about Alaska?

1938 GMT: Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after a day full of meetings discussing the crisis in Ukraine and NATO’s role, warned in a public address at Brookings Institute that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine poses the most serious threat to Europe’s security since the end of the Cold War.

This echoes a statement Rasmussen published yesterday, where he said, “there can be no justification to continue on this course of action that can only deepen Russia’s international isolation.”


1910 GMT: Shots have reportedly been fired at the Belbek airbase in Crimea.

While the Ukrainian government has said it is making plans to evacuate the military from Crimea, there are no signs that it has begun this process. If the self-defence forces push the issue, blood could be spilled prematurely.

A reader forwards us this, which is reportedly a livestream from outside the base:

1847 GMT: The Ukrainian government has said that it is making plans to evacuate its military from Crimea. It’s unclear if this includes its navy, but if it does not withdraw its fleets then Russia has said that it will nationalize them. The Kremlin-operated RIA Novosti reports:

Up to 20 warships and auxiliary vessels of the Ukrainian navy could become part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet following the reunification of Crimea with Russia, a senior Russian lawmaker said Tuesday.

According to Adm. (Ret.) Vladimir Komoyedov, chair of the State Duma Committee on Defense, the Ukrainian navy comprises some 40 ships, 20 of which are currently docked at naval bases in Crimea at Sevastopol and Donuzlav Bay.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Crimea signed a treaty Tuesday reunifying Crimea and the city of Sevastopol with Russia. The Russian parliament is expected to ratify the treaty imminently.

“We can now assume that the ships that remain in Crimea will initially become part of the Crimean self-defense forces and will later join Russia’s Black Sea Fleet,” Komoyedov told RIA Novosti.

1842 GMT: The Ukrainian military continues to mobilize in response to the last two days in Crimea:

1808 GMT: Russia has signaled that it is worried about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia, even going so far as to compare Estonia to Ukraine:

Russia fully supported the protection of the rights of linguistic minorities, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, according to a summary of the session issued by the U.N.’s information department.

“Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups,” the diplomat was reported as saying. Russia was “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine,” the Moscow envoy was said to have added.

The text of the Russian remarks, echoing long-standing complaints over Estonia’s insistence that the large Russian minority in the east of the country should be able to speak Estonian, was not immediately available.

Keep in mind that Estonia, just like Ukraine, has been complaining about Russian interference in local matters for quite some time. This fall, for instance, Estonian authorities said that Russia was trying to interfere in local elections, even by placing a mayoral candidate on an Interpol most wanted list. An alleged Russian spy was also captured in August. The specifics vary, of course, but to say that there is a general pattern of Russian harassment of other Baltic states can’t be denied, and so these statements, at this time, are alarming.

1757 GMT: Ukraine has announced today that the Foreign Ministry will introduce a visa regime for Russians. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly complained about Russian provocateurs operating in Ukraine, but the logistical impact of this move could have significant cultural and economic impacts. To say nothing of the fact Russia will see this as a significant provocation, and will likely respond, at least, in kind.

But where the rubber will really hit the road is in Crimea, which has been dependent on Ukrainian supplies. Visa regimes will seriously alter that dynamic as well.

1745 GMT: Russian OMON riot police have blocked the gates of a business owned by Petro Poroshenko, a prominent Ukrainian businessman and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Trade and Economic Development of Ukraine. Below is the news report, translated by The Interpreter:

This morning, March 19, in Lipetsk (Russia) a police post was set up on Dovatora street at the entrance to the Roshen confectionary factory owned by Petro Poroshenko. The entrance to the factory was blocked by an OMON truck and a police UAZ vehicle. Workers at are not being allowed onto the grounds of the factory, with no explanation given. Office employees of the factory are assembled in the buildings conference hall. The police are not giving any comments. The factory managers are unavailable and their mobile phones are not responding…

According to some reports, an operation to uncover illegal migrant workers is underway at the factory. The workers say that the police officers introduced themselves as employees of the Moscow Oblast department of the Ministry of the Interior.

Is this political retribution against Ukrainian businessmen?

1738 GMT: A big development…

1540 GMT Russia is once again conducting large-scale military drills, but not near Ukraine — instead, they are being held near other countries that Russia has had political and economic battles with in regards to their move towards the European Union. Reuters reports:

Russia’s military started large-scale aviation exercises in the northwest on Wednesday, officials said, close to Baltic ex-Soviet republics that are members of NATO and wary of Russia after its annexation of Crimea.

The exercises involving jet fighters and bombers were being conducted in regions that do not border Ukraine. A senior Russian military source said they had been planned in December and had no political significance.

Interfax reported that the drills would involve more than 40 Sukhoi and MiG warplanes and were being held in regions including Leningrad, which borders NATO-member Estonia and Finland, and Karelia, which shares a long border with Finland.

1525 GMT: Video showing the storming of the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol. Journalists reported that plain-clothed men and Crimean self-defence forces did the storming of the base, but Russian offices and support vehicles were spotted in the background. No shots were fired.

1522 GMT: In this week’s edition of The Interpreter Podcast, Interpreter’s managing editor James Miller speaks with New York University’s Andrew S. Bowen about Ukraine: Why should we care, how does it effect the West, and what happens next?

Listen below or click here to listen in a new window, where you can find links to previous podcasts, as well as the links to subscribe:

1319 GMT: If you can’t stop the forcible change of reality on the ground, perhaps you can stop it in cyberspace. An editing war has broken out on Wikipedia, the Daily Dot reports.

As the world waits to hear whether the semi-autonomous region of Crimea will become part of Russia in what’s being called “the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War,” another war is raging on Wikipedia over what to call the peninsula in the interim.

This war is being carried out by Wikipedia editors who have spent the last 48 hours tweaking, deleting, and discussing the question that has stumped international news organizations: Who does Crimea actually belong to, Russia or Ukraine?

Andrei Sannikov, the Belarusian former political prisoner and alternative presidential candidate, immediately called on Google to refrain from conceding Putin’s unlawful and forcible annexation:

So far, Google Maps has kept Crimea in Ukraine — we’ll see if this changes in the coming days and weeks.

Google Maps

Google Maps

1314 GMT: The Ukrainian prosecutor has established the identity of the snipers who murdered people on Institutska Street on Maidan Square, reports.

Nikolai Golomsha, first deputy prosecutor general, announced yesterday that “foreign citizens are being investigated for complicity in the mass shooting of people in the center of the Ukrainian capital.”

The claims of involvement of the opposition (to Yanukovych) at the time in hiring snipers have not been confirmed, said Golomsha. Law-enforcers have the addresses of the location of the snipers, and lists of people who took part in the shooting of civilians. The snipers’ weapons have been seized and are being inspected by investigators. There was no word on whether or not any arrests have been made yet in the case.

As we reported last week, Moscow continues to spread disinformation on the details of the snipers’ case based on a leaked conversation among Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, and a Ukrainian doctor, Olga Bogomolets. In fact, none of the parties have claimed that the opposition deliberately shot a hundred of their own people to pin it on Yanukovych and have called for a forensic investigation.

1310 GMT: A top Crimean government official is discussing moving Tatars off part of their land and into new territory. RIA Novosti reports:

Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev said in an interview with RIA Novosti on Tuesday the new government in Crimea, where residents voted Sunday to become part of Russia, wants to regularize the land unofficially taken over by Crimean Tatar squatters following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“We have asked the Crimean Tatars to vacate part of their land, which is required for social needs,” Temirgaliyev said. “But we are ready to allocate and legalize many other plots of land to ensure a normal life for the Crimean Tatars,” he said.

Temirgaliyev emphasized that members of the Tatar community could receive senior political positions in the new government, in an apparent move to ease ethnic tensions in the region.

“I think that Crimean Tatars will be well represented in the government and parliament,” he said.

1242 GMT: The headquarters for Ukraine’s navy in Crimea, located in Sevastopol, has been taken over by Crimean “self-defence” units, supported by Russian troops. Al Jazeera reports:

Several men in civilian clothing entered a building at the Ukrainian naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, later joined by military-looking personnel believed to be Russian.

A naval spokesman on Wednesday said there had been no violence during the takeover and he believed the men belonged to so-called “self-defence” units, mainly made up of volunteers who have supported Crimea’s transition from Ukrainian to Russian control, Reuters news agency reported.

About a dozen Ukrainian servicemen were later seen exiting the base unarmed. Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse said the lower ranked Ukrainian servicemen were just walking off the base.

Three Russian flags were flying at one of the entrances to the base. A witness told Reuters news agency that armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, were at the gates of the base where the flags were flying.