All those clips we showed in the past few days of Russian forces amassing in the Crimean (such as this one)? Well, turns out they were all predictive of what has just happened in the Crimean region parliament at Simferopol, where around 120 pro-Russian Gunmen occupied the parliament building and raised the Russian flag. The scene was the site of Wednesday’s scuffles between Tatar groups and pro-Russian supporters. As Euronews reports, local Tatar leader Refat Chubarov posted that the buildings have been occupied by men in uniforms bearing “no recognisable insignia.” Kyiv says it would regard any movements by Russian military in Crimea outside Moscow’s Black Sea Base in Sevastopol as an act of aggression. Following the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych divisions in Ukraine have come to the fore. All this happens as Russian troops in the area are building up and at the same time as Russia put fighter jets on combat alert, according to Interfax.
The Russian flag flies atop the parliament building:
Euronews clarifies that the 120 men that seized Crimea parliament “have enough weapons to defend [the buildings] for a month” according an MP quoted by Interfax agency. Former Crimean Prime Minister and UDAR MP Serhiy Kunitsyn said to the agency that he spent all the night in contact with the armed group, “These professionally trained people are armed. They brought weapons – automatic weapons, grenade launchers, and machine guns,” he said, while speaking from the Ukraine parliament on Thursday.
According to Bloomberg, the group is allowing deputies to enter the legislature in the city of Simferopol for a possible vote on the status of Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Center of Journalist Research said. Ukraine prosecutors began a terrorism probe. .
“Provocateurs are on the march,” Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook Inc. page as police cordoned off the block around parliament. “It’s time for cool heads, the consolidation of healthy forces and precise actions.”
At the same time Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s acting envoy in Kiev for immediate consultations.
“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Viktor Yanukovich last week. “Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression
There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy. The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would “escalate tension or create misunderstanding”.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a “very dangerous game”. “This is a drastic step, and I’m warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin,” he told a news conference.
It was not immediately known who was occupying the buildings in the regional capital Simferopol and they issued no demands, but witnesses said they spoke Russian and appeared to be ethnic Russian separatists.
Interfax news agency quoted a witness as saying there were about 60 people inside and they had many weapons. It said no one had been hurt when the buildings were seized in the early hours by Russian speakers in uniforms that did not carry identification markings.
“We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol … we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window,” Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters. “They’re still there … Then the police came, they seemed scared. I asked them (the armed men) what they wanted, and they said ‘To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do’,” said Khazanov.
About 100 police were gathered in front of the parliament building, and a similar number of people carrying Russian flags later marched up to the building chanting “Russia, Russia” and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum. One of them, Alexei, 30, said: “We have our own constitution, Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they’re doing is illegal … We need to show our support for the guys inside (parliament). Power should be ours.”a
As a reminder, so far Putin has been silent on his views about the sovereignty of the Crimean region which is host to the critical Russian Sevastopol naval base. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ignored calls by some ethnic Russians in Crimea to reclaim the territory handed to then Soviet Ukraine by Soviet Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. The United States says any Russian military action would be a grave mistake. But Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Moscow would defend the rights of its compatriots and react without compromise to any violation of those rights.
Russian Lenta, citing the Crimean information agency, reports that the Crimean deputees have begun a referendum on the status of the Crimean autonomy, which is not quite a secession. Yet.
Elsewhere, Ukraine’s deposed president, who as we reported first some time ago had fled to Russia, reappeared, as expected in Russia, and claimed legitimacy to his post saying the Ukraine’s “mob” actions were illegal . From Reuters:
Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich said on Thursday he was still the legitimate president of his country and that people in its southeastern and southern regions would never accept the “lawlessness” brought by leaders chosen by a mob. Russian news agencies quoted a statement by Yanukovich as saying he had asked Moscow to guarantee his personal safety.
The statement could not be independently verified and it was not clear where Yanukovich was, although some media groups have suggested he is in Moscow after fleeing Ukraine, where he was toppled by opposition forces at the weekend.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said he had no information and could not comment on the statement.
“I, Viktor Fedorovich Yanukovich appeal to the people of Ukraine. As before I still consider myself to be the lawful head of the Ukrainian state, chosen freely by the will of the Ukrainian people,” he was quoted as saying.
“Now it is becoming clear that the people in southeastern Ukraine and in Crimea do not accept the power vacuum and complete lawlessness in the country, when the heads of ministries are appointed by the mob.”
“On the streets of many cities of our country there is an orgy of extremism,” he said, adding that he and his closest aides had been threatened physically.
“I have to ask the Russian authorities to provide me with personal safety from the actions of extremists.”
Russian television showed what it said was a copy of the statement.
Interfax news agency quoted a source in the authorities as saying Moscow would ensure Yanukovich’s safety on the Russian territory.
“In connection with the appeal by president Yanukovich for his personal security to be guaranteed, I report that the request has been granted on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the source was quoted as saying.
And just to make sure tensions reach a fever pitch, Interfax reported a few hours ago that Russian fighter jets along the Western Border were put on high alert:
The crews of fighter jets deployed in Russia’s Western Military Districts have been placed on high alert as part of surprise combat drills ordered by Russian President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said.
“Our fighter jets are constantly patrolling the airspace over border districts,” the ministry said in a press release, seen by Interfax-AVN on Thursday. “As soon as they were put on high alert, aviation units of the Western Military District redeployed to their operative air fields,” it said.
At the moment, “the district’s bombers are tackling combat training tasks targeting an imaginary adversary at aviation training ranges,” the ministry said.
Not surprisingly, the Ukraine economy, already in critical condition, is shutting down and the Hryvnia is imploding: Ukraine’s currency weakened 10.3 percent to 11.2 per dollar at 12:21 p.m. in Kiev, the lowest level since it was introduced in 1996, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The central bank imposed capital controls this month to stem its decline.
Finally, the story in pictures as reported by Euronews:
Russia’s deterrent? Nikolai Valuyev former boxer & now Russian MP arrives in Sevastopol to “support” Russian speakers pic.twitter.com/UR9VWUmOFy
— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) February 27, 2014
Speaker of Crimea Parliament confirms: No hostages, negotiations are under way, gunmen “are not showing any signs of aggression.” #Ukraine
— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 27, 2014
— KyivPost (@KyivPost) February 27, 2014
— Carnegie Russia (@CarnegieRussia) February 27, 2014
— Vagabond (@kenzolika) February 27, 2014
— Lucian Kim (@Lucian_Kim) February 27, 2014