As of Friday, the Ukraine has, as we predicted a month ago, been officially divided in two. As AP reported earlier, “two almost simultaneous signatures Friday on opposite sides of Europe deepened the divide between East and West, as Russia formally annexed Crimea and the European Union pulled Ukraine closer into its orbit. In this “new post-Cold War order,” as the Ukrainian prime minister called it, besieged Ukrainian troops on the Crimean Peninsula faced a critical choice: leave, join the Russian military or demobilize. Ukraine was working on evacuating its outnumbered troops in Crimea, but some said they were still awaiting orders.”
However, it appears it is not so much a question of figuring out how to evacuate the troops, but rather motivating them. As RIA reports, “less than 2,000 of Ukrainian troops serving in Crimea decided to leave the peninsula for Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday. “As of March 21, less than 2,000 out of 18,000 Ukrainian servicemen staying on the territory of the Republic of Crimea decided to go to Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement.
Those willing to continue their service in the Ukrainian armed forces will be provided with transport to carry their families and belongings to the Ukrainian territory, the ministry added. So while Russia is saying good riddance of foreign troops situation in its brand new territory, it is at least being kind enough to provide the means to depart.
Meanwhile, Russia, already in control of the critical warm water port of Sevastopol, just became the brand new owner of virtually the entire Ukraine navy fleet.
A total of 147 military units in Crimea have hoisted Russian flags instead of Ukrainian and applied to join the Russian armed forces.
“St. Andrew’s flags of the Russian Navy have been raised on 54 out of 67 vessels of the Ukrainian Navy, including eight warships and one submarine,” the defense ministry said.
Ukraine’s only submarine, the Zaporizhzhia, joined the Russian Black Sea Fleet earlier on Saturday and will be soon relocated to its base.
So while the last vestiges of Ukraine military presence in the Crimea slowly disappear, one place that still refuses to give in to Russians, is the Belbek air force base in east Crimea, made known several weeks ago for the stand off between Russian and Ukraine troops. As shown on the picture below, the troops are waiting for order from Kiev, while the Russian soldiers have all the time in the world to wait as the besieged base is emptied out. AFP adds that some 200 unarmed pro-Russian protesters stormed the base, as the soldiers have barricaded inside and are throwing smoke bombs.
Ukrainian commander at Belbek airforce base in #Crimea has told his forces to stand their ground despite Russian deadline to leave
— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) March 22, 2014
All of that is to be expected. However, what one should pay close attention to, is the latest pro-Russia rally which is taking place in the Eastern city of Donetsk, one where the crowd earlier was chanting for a return of the pre-coup Ukraine president, Yanukovich.
?????? ????? ?????? pic.twitter.com/3WVUFoV5DT
— ???????? ???? (@vezhlivo) March 22, 2014
Why the importance? Because whether the protest is real or fabricated, any additional provocations against the prevailing pro-Russian population will surely be used as a pretext by Putin to continue his “expansion” campaign into East Ukraine under the same pretext as he has made all too clear previously: to protect the minority population. And, as the west has shown all too clearly with a whole lot of meaningless sanctions, there is nobody to stop him.