Thirteen giant Ilyushin-76 (NATO codenamed IL-76 Candid) air transports flew into the Crimea Friday night, Feb. 28, and landed some 2,000 fresh Russian troops at a military airfield near Sebastopol.
debkafile’s military sources report the new intake were members of the Russian Rapid Intervention Force. They arrived as the UN Security Council in New York discussed the Kiev government’s protest against the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Earlier, airline companies said Crimean airports had been closed to traffic following reports that armed Russian troops in uniform but without insignia had take control of the runways of Crimea’s two main airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol.
Russia’s step-by-step military takeover of Crimea was tracked by debkafile in earlier reports Friday:
Russian marines and paratroops took control of Crimea’s main airports at the crack of dawn Friday, Feb. 28. debkafile’s military sources report another group seized the region’s key points - bridges, road hubs and power stations. Western sources referred only to “armed men sympathetic to the Russians,” seizing the airport of the capital, Simferopol - just as they described as “armed men” the Russian paratroops who stormed government and parliament buildings in the city the day before - and hoisted the Russian flag.
However, all doubt was removed later Friday when Arsen Avakov, Ukraine interior minister in Kiev, accused Russian troops of blockading an airport in what he described as an armed invasion.
Avakov said on his Facebook account that troops from the Black Sea Fleet stationed in the city were seen outside Belbek airport of Sevastopol, although the inside of the terminal was controlled by Ukrainian troops.
While stressing that no direct violent confrontations had taken place, Avakov said the matter should be dealt with on a diplomatic level before armed clashes broke out.
Thursday night, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to propose dialogue for stabilizing the situation in Ukraine. The seizure of Crimean airports the next morning raised the stakes between the two powers. Moscow is making it clear that it won’t give an inch on its refusal to accept the administration rising in Kiev after what it considers to be a coup d’etat against the lawful rule of President Viktor Yanukovych. The West stands by its support for Ukraine's territorial integrity.
For now, President Vladimir Putin has not ordered direct action against Kiev - only Crimea, where Russian troops have been deployed to secure the region and its big strategic bases and protect the Russian-speaking majority, a locution which gives Moscow the pretext for acting in the defense of Russian speakers or sympathizers in Ukraine at large.
The fairly mild US responses to Russia’s moves indicate that the Obama administration has no wish to be dragged in to the Ukraine crisis. John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Thursday reported assurances that the Russian combat drill had been scheduled in advance of the events in Kiev. Hagel only advised Moscow “not to take any action on Ukraine that could be misinterpreted.”
Senior administration officials in Washington commented early Friday that Ukraine was the European Union’s problem and they could look after it.
According to debkafile’s Washington and Moscow sources, the Obama and Putin administrations have each come to roughly the same conclusion: The Kiev administration is unsustainable in Ukraine’s bankrupt state. Before many days go by, it will be confronted with demands to supply wages, food and medicines to the public and the army. Loud complaints that the national coffers were robbed of tens of millions of dollars may be true, but will not restore the missing funds.
The Americans and Europeans are not exactly forthcoming In response to urgent pleas for aid. They are offering guarantees for no more than $1 bn each against loans from European banks, which too may be reluctant to advance money to a far from stable government.
Putin calculates that he holds the whip hand and that the Kiev government to save itself will have to bow to Russia’s demand to first of all honor “the peace deal signed last Friday, Feb. 21, by Yanukovych and the opposition, notarized by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland and approved by the US.”
This agreement recognized Yanukovich as Ukraine president and placed him at the head of a national unity government - not only of opposition parties but also factions sympathetic to Russia.
To prod this process forward, backed by some muscle-flexing, the ousted Ukraine president will hold a news conference later Friday at the southern Russian town of Rostov on-Don, which is only 502 kilometers from the Crimean capital of Simferopol. He is expected to offer pointers to Moscow’s next steps