While Russia has been massively piling up troops next to Ukraine’s eastern border, one thing that was missing to allow the crossing of the border was a provocation, aka the proverbial spark to give Moscow the green light to “defend” Russian citizens in the East. It may have just gotten that last night, when as previously reported, clashes in the eastern city of Donetsk between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian civilians turned lethal, killing at least one person and dozens injured. A clip of the clashes can be seen below:
Needless to say, this escalation was just the green light Russia needed. As Reuters reports, the Russian Foreign Ministry, responding to the death of at least one protester in Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk, repeated President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of the right to invade to protect Russian citizens and “compatriots”.
“Russia is aware of its responsibility for the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection,” it said. Curiously, organizers of the anti-Moscow demonstration said the dead man was from their group. That, however, is irrelevant, and in the fog of war, when tank batalions enter a country to “defend” select citizens, mistake are made.
In the meantime, and as we have been reporting since day one, Russian troops continue to gather:
A Reuters reporting team watched a Russian warship unload trucks, troops and at least one armored personnel carrier at Kazachaya bay near Sevastopol on Friday morning. Trucks drove off a ramp from the Yamal 156, a large landing ship that can carry more than 300 troops and up to a dozen APCs.
As also reported before, the key event in the coming days is the Crimean referendum whether to join Russia. Which is why a doomed last ditch diplomatic scramble has seen John Kerry rush to London where he later today he will meet Russian foreign minister Lavrov in a final attempt to diffuse the situation. The attempt will fail.
Summarizing it best, or perhaps just waking from a month-long nap, was the Estonian defense minister, Urmas Reinsalum who suddenly appears agitated to quite agitated:
- PUTIN IS PREPARING TO INVADE EASTERN UKRAINE: ESTONIAN DEF MIN
- UKRAINE EVENTS CLEARLY SHOW RUSSIA ONLY ACCEPTS FORCE: ESTONIAN DEF MIN
Hardly anyone is surprised there…
But perhaps the biggest news so far this morning is that the EU is considering visa bans to 13 Russian politicians and industry leaders, which according to Germany’s Bild, include the headest hocnho of all: Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. From Reuters:
Visa bans threatened by the European Union and United States should Crimea vote to join Russia in a referendum would target at least 13 Russian politicians and industry leaders including Vladimir Putin’s close aides, Germany’s Bild newspaper reported.
The visa ban list includes Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, head of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov, the secretary of the National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, as well as several of Putin’s advisors, Bild said in an advance copy of a report to be published on Saturday. The report cited diplomatic sources in Brussels and Washington.
Visa bans could also be slapped on the chief executive of Russian energy firm Gazprom Alexei Miller, and Igor Sechin, head of Russia’s top crude oil producer Rosneft .
Remember, it is all about the gas. And if Europe “forces” Russia’s hand by denying Gazprom free access, then Gazprom will have no choice but to retaliate. At that point all bets are off.