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Russia Tightens Grip On Crimea

March 5, 2014
via AP/Ivan Sekretarev

via AP/Ivan Sekretarev

A day after Vladimir Putin met with journalists and insisted that no further military action would be taken in Ukraine, his soldiers are consolidating their positions.

With the cities  Simferopol and Sebastopol occupied since the end of February, as well as most bases and airports in the peninsula, Russian military personnel deployed there are making sure it remains under their control. Less than 24 hours ago, an attempt by Ukrainian soldiers to peacefully enter captured Belbek airbase in broad daylight was met with warning shots.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Kiev and pledged $1 billion in aid to the new government headed by President Oleksander Turchinov and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk.

Ukraine’s current leadership came to power after former President Viktor Yanukovich was run out of office by protesters on February 22. Yanukovich’s downfall climaxed a months long battle to unseat him by a loose coalition of activists, disgruntled citizens, and right-wing opposition groups.

At the end of February, armed men later identified as Russian special forces and VDV–the airborne–deployed throughout Crimea. Their movements were so swift, neither fighting nor combat occured. Reinforcements quickly arrived by ship, by air, and by convoy.

Based on the online news stream, an additional battalion of infantry were ferried to Kerch yesterday even as the Russian navy were blockading Sevastopol’s harbor.

Russia’s sudden intervention caught both Ukraine and the international community by surprise. Over the weekend, helicopters and columns of armored vehicles boosted the Russian presence in Crimea. This is the first time since Russia embarked on rearmament four years ago that its military has deployed in force.

To discourage concerned neighbors, Moscow green lit combined-arms exercises along its shared border with Ukraine involving 150,000 troops. These maneuvers have now ended.

It’s difficult to tell how many Russian soldiers are in Crimea at the moment. The best estimate is more than 10,000 although the Ukrainian government puts the number at 16,000.

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