A Ukrainian naval officer (C) passes by armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, as he leaves the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014.
Vladimir Putin is orchestrating a clandestine takeover of Crimea in plain sight.
The Associated Press reports that “Crimea’s self-defense forces on Wednesday stormed the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, taking possession without resistance a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to annex the region.”
Many of these “self-defense forces” speak Russian, wear Russian military uniforms, carry military-issue weapons, drive Russian trucks, take orders from Moscow — clearly, they are Russian soldiers.
But the Kremlin’s assertion that “we have no authority over them” still stands, as seen by how the trained gunman are described in the media.
The Financial Times reports that “Crimea’s choicest state assets have already been taken over by pro-Russian forces in the peninsula, and will ultimately be controlled by Moscow.”
On Saturday 80 military personnel — with the support of 4 helicopter gunships and 3 armored combat machines — took over a gas facility in village of Strilkove, a strip of land between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.
Russian soldiers, not Crimean self-defense forces, carried out that operation.
A man holds a Russian flag on the roof of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014.
There are armed and unarmed members of so-called “self-defense” units who support Russia’s annexation of Crimea. At the Ukrainian navy headquarters, several of these volunteers raised the Russian flag.
However, most significantly, Reuters notes that “a witness saw three armed men, possibly Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, at the gate where the flags were flying.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), Crimea’s Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov (front L), Crimean parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov (back L) and Sevastopol Mayor Alexei Chaliy shake hands after a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow March 18, 2014.
On Tuesday, Putin signed a treaty that ostensibly integrated the strategic Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula into Russia. He was joined by Sergei Aksyonov, an ethnic Russian and former gangster (who went by the nickname of “Goblin”), who is now Crimea’s prime minister.
The look on Putin’s face indicates that he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Editor’s note: Reuters now reports that “Russian troops and unarmed men stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday and raised the Russian flag.”
Given the circumstances, that sounds much more accurate than “Crimea’s self-defense forces.”