Proposed legislation, troop movements all point towards a push for reunification
February 28, 2014
Russian lawmakers are proposing two bills that would simplify both the annexation of new territories into the Russian Federation and the process of granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians, signaling that Moscow may attempt to absorb Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula which has very strong ties to Russia.
The bills were introduced in the Russian parliament today as Moscow confirmed previous reports that Russian troops and armored vehicles were already in Crimea, the population of which is nearly 60% ethnic Russian and is very pro-Russia as a whole.
The lawmakers said that the annexation bill stems from Russia’s 1997 agreement with Ukraine to take necessary steps to prevent violence against citizens due to national, ethnic or religious affiliations.
In regards to the confirmed Russian troops in Crimea, the Russian foreign ministry said that they were there to “protect the Black Sea Fleet’s positions.”
In addition, unidentified armed men, dressed in military gear but without any visible insignia, seized two airports in Crimea last night, prompting news outlets to speculate that they were also Russian troops.
Russia has around 26,000 troops stationed on their naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, which is of extreme strategic importance to Moscow.
And considering the strong ties that Ukraine’s semi-autonomous peninsula has with Russia, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Russia would be willing to wage war over Crimea.
“If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” an unidentified Russian official told the Financial Times. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia [in 2008].”
Russian President Vladimir Putin already ordered combat readiness drills involving 150,000 troops in western Russia near the Ukrainian border as well as around-the-clock fighter jet patrols on combat alert.
Yesterday, over 50 gunmen stormed government buildings in Crimea and rose Russian flags and a banner stating that “Crimea is Russia.”
And on Monday, officials in Sevastopol even installed a Russian citizen as mayor in response to the pro-EU, western-backed coup in Kiev nearly 900 kilometers away.
“Sevastopol’s city council handed power to Aleksei Chaliy, a Russian citizen, during an extraordinary session on Monday evening while more than a thousand protesters gathered around city hall chanting ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ and ‘A Russian mayor for a Russian city,’” Howard Amos reported for the Guardian.
The Kremlin has also steadfastly refused to recognize the pro-EU interim government in Kiev and sent fighter jets to escort the plane carrying embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych into Russia, who declared today that he is still the president of Ukraine.
Given these latest developments, including Russia’s recent military build-up, it is highly unlikely that Moscow will give up Crimea without a fight.