Unidentified armed men have seized two airports in Crimea overnight, causing Ukraine’s new interior minister to talk of “a military invasion and occupation” by Russia. … They wore military fatigues with no insignia and refused to talk, though one told news agencies they were part of a self-defence unit who wanted to ensure that no “fascists” arrived in the region from Kiev.
At Sevastopol airport, a military airport that handles few commercial flights, a man who said he was a captain in the tactical aviation brigade but declined to give his name, told the Guardian there were about 300 people of unknown identity inside the airport. “We don’t consider it any invasion of our territory,” he said without elaborating. He said the men looked like military, were wearing two different types of uniform and were armed with sniper rifles and AK-47s. “We don’t know who they are, nor where they’ve come from.”
The interim Ukrainian president has dismissed the head of the armed forces, while Russia’s parliament “began considering a law that would allow Moscow to add new territories to Russia in a simplified manner”. There was also this incident at the Russian border:
At least 20 men wearing the uniform of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and carrying automatic rifles surrounded a Ukrainian border guard post on Friday, in a tense standoff near the port city of Sevastopol in Ukraine’s Crimea region. A Reuters reporter in the Balaklava district saw Ukrainian border police in helmets and riot gear shut inside the border post, with a metal gate pulled shut and metal riot shields placed behind the windows as protection. A servicemen who identified himself as an officer of the Black Sea Fleet told Reuters: “We are here … so as not to have a repeat of the Maidan.”
Paul Sonne reports that “Crimean special forces and local militiamen with Kalashnikovs and masks have hoisted Russian flags and set up checkpoints on the only two highways that connect the Black Sea peninsula to mainland Ukraine”:
In Chongar, the checkpoint on the highway that connects Crimea to Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east, Russian flags flapped in the wind Friday as about a dozen armed Crimea-based riot police, known as berkut, checked cars and trucks. An encampment of roughly 30 mostly Cossack volunteer militiamen set up tents beside the policemen to serve as backup in case pro-Ukrainian forces attempt to enter the territory.
In an overview of Crimean history, Adam Taylor warns against assuming the region’s Russian nationalists will be unified:
While the Russian nationalists in Crimea have been given a lot of attention in the past few days, some say they aren’t a coherent force. Ellie Knott, a doctoral candidate at London School of Economics who conducts research in Crimea, has argued convincingly that the Russian nationalist and Crimean separatists are in practice hindered by their own internal divisions, and that many ethnic Russians in Crimea have a more complicated sense of national identity than might first appear. And while Russia has shown itself willing to get involved in the affairs of post-Soviet states, most recently with Georgia over the breakaway state South Ossetia, few are predicting it will openly get involved in a dispute with Ukraine anytime soon.
Calming nerves, Eli Lake reports that so far the US intelligence community doesn’t think Putin will invade:
The assessment is based in part on the fact that not enough medical units have been ordered to accompany the Russian troops to the Ukrainian border to suggest preparation for war, according to one Congressional staffer who has seen intelligence on Russia. This source also said no signal intercepts have detected plans for an invasion. …
Fiona Hill, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said she did not expect Russia to launch a land invasion into Ukraine. She did however say that the Russian Navy’s presence in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea would be a potential flash point. “There is one place where they could indeed do something militarily, Crimea,” Hill said. “If there was any kind of threat to the bases, they could mobilize their forces.”
[Yanukovych] said Crimea should remain part of Ukraine, and called on Russia to act decisively against the new government in Kiev. “I think Russia should, and is obliged, to act, and knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, I am surprised he is so restrained and keeping silent,” Yanukovych said. …
He said he believed there should be no military activity in Crimea, but insisted Russia should not “sit in the corner and not act”. Yanukovych, who had not been seen in public for a week since he fled Kiev, denied that he was on the run and that he had been overthrown, and claimed he had been “cynically tricked” by the international community, who had allowed “fascists” to take over. The ousted president said he would not take part in elections scheduled by Ukraine’s parliament because they were illegitimate and he is still the president.