Ukraine Liveblog Day 35: Russia’s ‘Sizeable’ And ‘Ready’ Forces on the Border

March 24, 2014
A Russian APC punches through the gate of Belbek airbase | New York Times/David M. Herszenhorn

Ukraine has ordered its forces to retreat from Crimea, and NATO has warned that Russia has “sizeable” and “ready” forces at Ukraine’s borders.

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

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

0243 GMT: Right Sector has confirmed that Sashko Beliy is dead, reported, citing which obtained confirmation from Jaroslav Granitniy, chairman of the Rovno Region Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA):

“Those who killed him were sure that he didn’t have a bullet-proof vest on him, and then shot him in the heart.”

Granitniy said that in the attack on the cafe, five people were kidnapped, three from Right Sector and two others, including Vladimir Datsenko, the head of the city employment center.

Translation: @maidanod Official. Right Sector has confirmed the death of Oleksandr Muzychko (Sashka Beliy). Maidan. #Odessa

Biliy (Muzychko) was among those Ukrainians targeted by Russian law-enforcement for investigations of allegations of fighting alongside Chechen insurgents and torturing and killing Russian soldiers.

“Muzychko brutally tortured prisoners of war among the Russian federal forces and then killed them. During the period under investigation, Muzychko personally tortured and then murdered at least 20 prisoners to extract the information he required,” Markin said.

It is difficult to get facts on the case as most of the sources are Russian state news outlets or pro-Russian bloggers. Russian authorities have investigated links between Ukrainian nationalists and Chechen terrorists in the past. RIA Novosti added this context:

“Although most of those who took to the streets of the capital Kiev for anti-government protests during the last three months were peaceful, Russian state media has tried to cast the demonstrations as a predominantly Fascism-inspired movement. Many prominent figures, however, particularly those involved in violent clashes with police, have long links with far-right groups espousing aggressively nationalistic and ultraconservative views.”

2343 GMT: reports that Sashko Biliy (Oleksandr Muzychko), the Right Sector coordinator for the Western district, has been found dead.

According to AutoMaidan activists, Beliy’s body was said to be found outside the city of Rovno, near the settlement of Barmarki with two bullets in his head, with his arms handcuffed.

We are still checking these reports; has characterized the reports of the murder as “unconfirmed.” Ukrainian deputy Oleksandr Doniy has posted a notice on his Facebook page.

Citing the Ukrainian online news site Charivne, reports that Muzychko was shot about midnight in the cafe Tri Karasi. Three Volkswagen vans (two black and one white) pulled up, then unidentified persons took all the customers out of the cafe, including Muzychko. Then they placed handcuffs on him, and beat him and his two bodyguards.

“Subsequently people heard two automatic rounds. He was shot immediate behind the cafe,” said one witness. Police have not confirmed the story.

In a video appeal uploaded to YouTube 4 march, Biliy commented speaks of his plans:

“Yes, we go around with guns in our hands. The majority of these weapons we have are lawful and registered. We go around with guns, because it is a very difficult time now, there was a revolution and a civil war was underway, and now there is aggression against the government. As soon as the threat to our statehood disappears, then the guns will be where they should be, in safes and in the homes of every citizen.”

2005 GMT: This interesting video is being circulated. It appears to show civilians trading Morse code messages with Ukrainian ships that are stuck in Donuzlav lake. It’s not clear what messages are being sent and received, or what value these messages would have, except that it is a sign of solidarity between some people in Crimea and the people on the stranded warships:

1852 GMT: Journalist Tom Barton is with a group of Ukrainian soldiers who are retreating from Crimea towards mainland Ukraine:



1838 GMT: In yet another story that has the FSB’s fingerprints all over it, a tape has been released reportedly of a conversation between former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and MP Nestor Shufrych. The Russian propaganda outlet posted the video — it claims that Tymoshenko has confirmed the conversation, but says that parts were edited. According to RT, Shufrych’s office denied the report:

The leaked phone call took placed on March 18, hours after the Crimea & Sevastopol accession treaty was signed in the Kremlin.

While Shufrych was “just shocked,” Tymoshenko was enraged by the results of the Crimean referendum .

“This is really beyond all boundaries. It’s about time we grab our guns and kill go kill those damn Russians together with their leader,” Tymoshenko said.

The ex-pm declared if she was in charge “there would be no f***ing way that they would get Crimea then.”

Shufrych made the valid point that Ukraine “didn’t have any force potential” to keep Crimea.

But Tymoshenko, who plans to run in Ukraine’s presidential election, expressed confidence that she would have found “a way to kill those a*****es.”

“I hope I will be able to get all my connections involved. And I will use all of my means to make the entire world raise up, so that there wouldn’t be even a scorched field left in Russia,” she promised.

Despite being incapacitated by spinal disc hernia the ex-PM stressed she’s ready to “grab a machine gun and shoot that m*********er in the head.”

1804 GMT: The Russian troops in western Crimea have seized another Ukrainian warship, the LST Kostyantyn Olshanskiy:

Ukraine’s Pravda has posted several pictures of the Russian navy firing smoke grenades at the Ukrainian vessel, pulling alongside, and boarding it. A video taken from the shore appears to show the Ukrainian ship playing the national anthem before ultimately surrendering.:



This ship, and several like it, were blocked in Donuzlav lake when Russian naval ships entered a narrow channel and ultimately scuttled two obsolete ships behind them, effectively trapping the Ukrainian navy in the lake:

For a better understanding of how this is possible, take a look at the lake on a map, which we’ve labeled below to illustrate the plight of the trapped ships:

Donuzlav lake Crimea   Google Maps

1556 GMT: VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky has been doing amazing dispatches from Ukraine. Dispatch eighteen examines the Russian attack on the Belbek airbase. Note a few key things — civilians were working with the Russian troops, and Russian troops used live gunfire, endangering everyone in the process. Also, journalists were harassed in the process.

1448 GMT: Crimea may not be the prize that Russia thinks it is. The fact remains that Crimea, while important for energy and strategic reasons, was heavily dependent on infrastructure and financial support from Ukraine. The first impact of that severed tie — Crimea will have to become electricity independent. Crimean authorities say that this process has begun, and will only take 45 days. Russia Beyond the Headlines reports:

Mobile power plants will be deployed across Crimea in 45 days and the republic will stop being dependent on electric power supply from Ukraine, said Crimean First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev.

“The period of peak problems will last for 1.5 months, until the deployment of mobile power plants,” Temirgaliyev told a press conference in Simferopol on Monday.

“Power supply was halted to a number of Crimean districts on Sunday night and Monday morning under the pretext of repairs,” he said. “The peninsula is connected to Ukraine with three transmission lines, which bring electric power to Crimea. One of the lines was allegedly put under repairs yesterday. We were informed this morning about repairs of the other two transmission lines. We have no illusions, we are perfectly aware that this is a political act of blackmail,” Temirgaliyev said.

1443 GMT: Journalists are reporting that Ukrainian soldiers are headed away from a recently captured base and are on their way to the border — out of Crimea:

1427 GMT: Russia’s stock market continues to struggle. The MICEX index closed down another .59% today and is down 13.43% for the year:

MICEX March 24

The ruble, on the other hand, has been slowly gaining since it plummeted to its extreme depths on March 13th.

RUB to USD Exchange Rate   MArch 24

However, modest gains, likely market corrections, will take a very long time to erase what has been a terrible year for the Russian currency:

RUB to USD Exchange Rate   last year

1415 GMT: More disquieting clues about Vladimir Putin’s true intentions in Ukraine. RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson phrases it this way:

The article discusses a subject, broached by Moscow security magazine Sovershenno Sekretno over a year ago, that suggests that Russia has been preparing for a much larger war for many years in its ramp-up of its military, and that Russia is actually dependent on Ukraine in order to fulfill the plan. Thus, Yanukovych’s ouster was a blow not just to Russian economic interests, but also to strategic interests that are not even widely understood outside of circles that closely watch Russia’s military industrial complex. Paul Goble reports for The Interpreter’s Window on Eurasia:

[The Gorenshin Institute in Kyiv says] that the article suggests the following conclusions. First, they say, “it seems that the Russian leader is seriously preparing for a third world war,“ given the size and nature of Moscow’s recent purchase orders from its own military-industrial complex.

Second, they conclude, the idea that “Ukraine’s defense industry depends on Russia “is wrong.” On the contrary, the Russian military industrial complex at the strategic level “is highly dependent on Ukraine” and its military industry for key production. Without that production, Russian firms cannot deliver what Putin seeks.

Read the entire article: Do Putin’s Moves Reflect Russian Military’s Dependence on Ukraine’s Military Industry?

1352 GMT: Following the capture of another naval base this morning by Russian troops, Kiev has ordered the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Crimea:

“The National Defence and Security Council has instructed the Defence Ministry to carry out a re-deployment of military units in Crimea and evacuate their families,” acting president Oleksander Turchinov told parliament in Kiev.

The move, he said, had been made following threats by Russian forces on the lives and health of Ukrainian service staff and their families.

Russian forces, using stun grenades and machine guns and backed by two helicopters, swept into a marine base in the port of Feodosia early on Monday, overrunning one of Ukraine’s last symbols of resistance. Ukrainian officers were taken away for questioning, Ukrainian officials said.

An official withdrawal from the base was due to start at 3 p.m., Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said.

Russian troops have been increasingly aggressive, despite the lack of resistance from Ukrainian forces. The first Ukrainian posts to fall did not involve any gunfire. Then, over the weekend, more smoke grenades, flash grenades, and now gunfire has been used to intimidate Ukrainian forces and capture their outposts. While Ukrainian forces walked out of the first bases to fall, more and more Ukrainian soldiers are now being detained. Reuters reports:

“Currently, between 60 and 80 Ukrainian marines are detained and in practice held captive by the Russian military on the territory of the Feodosia sea port. They are subject to constant psychological pressure,” the ministry said,

Two days after the Belbek storming, the commander of the airbase, Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, has yet to be freed. His aides believe he is being held in the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home town of Sevastopol.

1346 GMT: We start with a dire warning from NATO:

Russia has amassed enough forces on Ukraine’s border to reach Moldova’s vulnerable Trans-Dniester region, NATO’s top military commander warned on Sunday.

Moscow has mobilized a “very, very sizeable and very, very ready” military contingent on Ukraine’s eastern boundary, Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove told a conference in Brussels.

He said he was worried the troop build-up could pose a threat to the mainly Russian-speaking separatist region, whose local pro-Russia leader has already appealed to Moscow for an annexation similar to the one carried out in Crimea.

The president of ex-Soviet Moldova warned Russia last Tuesday against considering any move to annex Trans-Dniester.

The warning comes one day after White House deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, warned that even putting this many Russian troops is dangerous in and of itself, but could also be a precursor to a larger invasion:

“It’s deeply concerning to see the Russian troop buildup on the border,” Blinken told CNN. “It creates the potential for incidents, for instability. It’s likely that what they’re trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians. It’s possible that they’re preparing to move in.”

Is this bluster? Russia has been moving troops to the border for weeks, and is expanding its military drills across the region. Furthermore, the Russian forces in Crimea continue to conduct highly provocative missions, as if they are trying to elicit a response from the Ukrainian garrisons. The Russian government and media has already begun setting its propaganda law about ethnic Russians in other countries, including Estonia, Georgia, and Moldova. The Russian government has been waging trade wars for many months, very similar to those they waged against Ukraine. The reality is that, if even just recent history is our guide, every indication suggests that Russia is preparing to invade mainland Ukraine, possibly with the intention of striking Moldova.