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Russia has deployed 10,000 troops to multiple locations along the Ukraine-Russia border, deepening fears that the simmering crisis in the Crimean peninsula is about to escalate into full-scale warfare. In London on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to broker a last-minute deal with Russia’s foreign minister to ratchet down the crisis, but their talks “ended inconclusively,” according to the New York Times. This weekend, voters in Crimea, an autonomous region of about 2 million in southeastern Ukraine, will vote on a referendum that would give citizens the option of asserting independence from Ukraine, or becoming part of Russia. (Remaining part of Ukraine isn’t an option.) The United States and European Union leaders have called the referendum illegal; Russia backs it. If Crimea votes to join Russia—which the Obama administration expects it to do—Russia could then use the results as justification for using force in the region. On Friday, Kerry said that Russia should respect the results of the referendum without proceeding with “back-door annexation,” which would bring international consequences. Here’s what you need to know about the current state of play. Check back frequently, since we’ll update this post as events unfold.
Western leaders are furious: On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly slammed Russia’s actions, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin that if he continues intervening in Ukrainian affairs, “It will cause massive damage to Russia, both economically and politically.” She also accused Russia of breaking international law by deploying troops and warned that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not up for discussion.” President Obama also warned Russia that “if it continues on the path that it is on, not only us but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of international law.” This week, a US Senate panel approved legislation that would impose strict sanctions—including freezing assets and denying visas—on Russians and anyone else involved in undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. Those sanctions could be enacted as early as Monday, if Crimea chooses to secede.
If Crimea joins Russia, it could take Ukrainian gas and oil reserves with it: Russian exports account for about one-third of Europe’s gas consumption and those pipelines run smack through Ukraine. As Mother Jones‘ James West points out, “Russia has long been able to use Ukraine as an energy choke point.” On Thursday, Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported that authorities in Crimea have been securing offshore gas and oil in the region. Crimean parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov reportedly said: “These deposits and the platform fully become the property of the Republic of Crimea…We have guarded them. These are our fields and we will fight for them.”
Putin is cracking down on Russian press: Julia Ioffe reports in The New Republic:
What began just days before the Olympics with a Kremlin attack on Dozhd, the last independent television station in Russia, has now extended to Lenta.ru, arguably the best news site in Russia. On Wednesday, the site’s editor-in-chief was fired and replaced with a Kremlin loyalist, and the whole staff quit in protest. Yesterday, the Kremlin went full-China on the Internet, the holy of holies of the Russian opposition. Using some flimsy legal pretexts, it banned access to various oppositional news sites, to the website of Moscow’s biggest radio station, and to the blog of Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest.
Russia maintains that it’s not going to invade: Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is not planning to annex Crimea and he would leave it up to citizens in the region to determine their future. He also said force would only be used as “a last resort.”â€‹ As recently as Friday, Russian officials have maintained that an invasion is still off the table:
But Western leaders aren’t optimistic that Putin will back down from annexing Crimea, after the referendum vote. According to the New York Times, “As of Friday, there had been no sign that President Vladimir V. Putin was prepared to take the ‘off ramp’ that the Obama administration has repeatedly offered.â€‹” Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov declared on Friday that Russia and the United States “have no common vision” about the crisis.
UPDATE, March 14, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT: The Pentagon is sending 25,000 ready-to-eat meals to Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. Two US representatives have asked President Obama to put names of Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses on the Magnitsky list, a public list of Russians created in 2012 as part of the Magnitsky Act, to punish Russian officials who have committed human rights violations. Members of the list are prohibited from entering the US or using the US banking system.
UPDATE 2, March 14, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT: Mimicking the language used to justify their invasion of Crimea, the Russian foreign ministry has issued a warning that they reserve the right to intervene in the city of Donetsk to protect lives after a series of clashes Thursday night led to at least one death and dozens of injuries.
Donetsk is a primarily Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border. The clashes began yesterday after hundreds of demonstrators chanting Pro-Russian slogans broke through a police cordon and stormed a separate group protesting Russia’s invasion of Crimea and calling for “a united Ukraine.”
Here’s video of the incident heating up:
UPDATE 3, March 14, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT: Another two people were reportedly killed and five injured during clashes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv Friday. There have been conflicting reports over who was injured and who was responsible for the attack, but many are alleging armed pro-Russian groups or the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector may have provoked the attack.
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city after Kiev, and historically, was the country’s first Soviet capital. Like Donetsk, it’s also close to the Russian border. As a result, large pro-Russian rallies have been common, which some are predicting could become a litmus test for the future direction of the country.
Link to article:
Conflict in Crimea: Is Russia Poised to Invade Ukraine?