Russian flags were raised above Ukraine’s naval headquarters in Crimea on Wednesday, shortly after pro-Russian ‘defense forces’ took over the base and at least some Ukrainian officers were seen walking off the base in civilian clothes.
Orders from Kiev on Tuesday authorized Ukraine soldiers stranded on their bases on the peninsula to use their weapons, but in this case no shots were fired.
According to Reuters:
The takeover comes a day after an incident at a separate military installation on the Crimean peninsula—whose citizens declared their independence from the government in Kiev on Sunday—left one Ukrainian soldier dead, raising worries that the growing political tension could lead to further violence.
Following a fiery speech on Tuesday in which he accused western nations of hypocrisy over their stance on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a declaration making the annexation of Crimea official. Leaders of the government in Kiev, however, called the move an “illegal” form of military aggression and said they do not recognize Crimea’s newly declared status as a Russian republic.
The Guardian reports:
Both the US and EU states have taken the side of Kiev in the debate, but have so far fulfilled threats to “punish” Russia by imposing what most analysts agree are rather insignificant sanctions against Russian officials, including freezing of assets and travel bans.
Stronger sanctions are under consideration, according to White House officials, including Vice President Joe Biden who spoke on the issue on Tuesday from Poland.
At a joint press conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Biden promised that Poland would continue to receive military aid as one of its key NATO allies bordering Russia, including a controversial missile “defense” system.
“That is our commitment — an operational missile-defense system by 2018 here in Poland,” Biden said.
The issue of the missile shield in Poland is important because Moscow has repeatedly stated that the crisis in Ukraine partly stems from repeatedly broken promises about NATO’s eastward expansion. Placing missile installations in Poland and other Baltic states is seen by Russians as a threat, given their memories of two world wars in which they faced military invasions from their western borders with Europe.
As Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst, recently wrote:
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