The clash between the antagonists in the Ukraine crisis – Russia on one side and the US and Europe on the other – is heating up in the countdown to the Crimean referendum on secession on Sunday March 16.
Tuesday, March 11, as European ministers discussed sanctions against Russia, Moscow launched its biggest military exercise in 20 years. It encompasses command elements, rapid deployment forces and paratroops and takes place in western Russia not far from the Ukraine border.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt.-Col. Evgeni Meshkov said, “One of the key objectives of the exercise is to show how effective tactical landing force can be in different latitudes and conditions.” He reported that the Ivanovo paratroops’ formation of 4,000 troops and 36 military air transports would take part in the maneuver.
Also this week, debkafile reported that the Russian army had moved mobile coastal defense batteries from the Russian base of Novorossiysk to its Crimean base of Sevastopol. The K-300Ps (Nato codenamed SSC-5), the most advanced of their kind, were deployed for any contingency such as fighting off naval units or repelling landing forces.
This new exercise augments the drill Russia announced Friday, March 7, which mobilized its air and coastal defenses and deployed more than 1,000 missile and tank units in Kapustin Yar, around 450 km from the Ukraine border. That exercise was scheduled to last until early April to catch the referendum and its aftermath.
Washington and Moscow have virtually broken off any dialogue over the crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed that US Secretary of State John Kerry had “postponed” a face-to- face meeting with President Vladimir Putin that was to have taken place in Moscow Monday, March 10, to discuss US proposals.
Lavrov said that Russia had effectively rejected them. And Kerry said that, before traveling to the meeting, he needed to know that Russia would “engage seriously” in a diplomatic solution and end “provocative steps.”
By Tuesday, Moscow had fielded a total of 60,000 troops – either in military exercises in areas adjoining Ukraine or in military movements in and around Crimea.
The US, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria also launched a series of military drills Tuesday on the Black Sea and along the Polish borders with Russia. They are on a far smaller scale than the Russian show of strength.
The West flexed financial muscle instead. Two European foreign ministers, Laurent Fabius of France and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland announced Tuesday, that the EU would almost certainly impose sanctions on Russia on March 17, the day after the Crimean referendum.
In London, the US and a group of European officials began drawing up a list of Russian individuals who would be subjected to the sanctions of asset freezes and travel bans. That list is believed to target not just officials involved in the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy, but also individual businessmen close to President Putin who keep financial assets in the United States and Europe.
debkafile’s intelligence sources disclose that, two months ago, Russian tycoons close to the Kremlin began shifting some deposits out of Western financial institutions to the Far East – just another clue to Putin having planned the Ukraine crisis some time ago.