Infantry, navy, and now air force. At least according to the Ukraine, which reported that Russian fighter jets twice violated Ukraine’s air space over the Black Sea during the night, Interfax news agency quoted the Defence Ministry as saying on Monday. It said Ukraine’s air force had scrambled a Sukhoi SU-27 interceptor aircraft and prevented any “provocative actions” but gave no further details. That was just the cherry on top to what has already been an exhausting day for risk in Russia and the Ukraine, both of which saw their currencies tumble to all time lows.
In the meantime, Russian fortifications in the region continue. Reuters summarizes:
A Ukrainian border guard spokesman said on Monday that Russian ships had been moving in and around the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone services in some parts of Crimea.
He said Moscow was building up its armor near a ferry port on Russia’s side of the 4.5 km (three mile) wide Kerch straight, which separates Crimea from Russia.
“There are armoured vehicles on the other side of the strait. We can’t predict whether or not they will put any vehicles on the ferry,” the spokesman said by telephone.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian Defence Ministry.
Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea – an isolated Black Sea peninsula with an ethnic Russian majority, where Moscow has a naval base.
On Sunday they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, leading to stand-offs, although no shots were fired.
All eyes are now on whether Russia makes a military move in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow demonstrators have marched and raised Russian flags over public buildings in several cities in the last two days.
Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed. Kiev says Moscow is orchestrating the protests to justify a wider invasion.
Ukraine’s security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert. However, Kiev’s small and underequipped military is seen as no match for Russia’s superpower might.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia for what he called an “incredible act of aggression” and threatened “very serious repercussions”.
G8 countries and other nations were prepared to “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia” if Moscow made the wrong choices in Ukraine, Kerry told CBS program Face the Nation.
“They are prepared to isolate Russia economically. The rouble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges,” he said. He mentioned visa bans, asset freezes and trade isolation as possible steps.
While the EU and NATO stepped up verbal pressure on Moscow, a German spokesman said Merkel believed it was not too late to resolve the Ukrainian crisis by political means despite differences of opinion between Putin and the West.
The German leader, who speaks fluent Russian, has had several long telephone calls with the German-speaking Putin since the crisis erupted with mass protests in Kiev.
“There is no doubt President Putin has a completely different view on the situation and events in Crimea from the German government and our Western partners,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters. But he added: “It is still not too late to resolve this crisis peacefully by political means.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would ask Russia’s foreign minister at a meeting in Geneva to refrain from acts or rhetoric that would further escalate the crisis. He was sending his deputy to convey the same message to the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev, he said.
So far, the Western response has been largely symbolic. Obama and others suspended preparations for a G8 summit in Sochi, where Putin has just finished staging his $50 billion winter Olympic games. Some countries recalled ambassadors. Britain said its ministers would stay away from the Paralympics due next in Sochi.
With the confrontation in Crimea having remained bloodless for days, a mood of imminent catastrophe has begun to ebb in Kiev, but many people are still on edge.
On Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, where protesters manned barricades for three months to bring down Yanukovich, the morning crowds were smaller than in the past few days as people returned to work.
“Crimea, we are with you!” read one placard. “Putin – Hitler of the 21st century,” read another.
Sergei Lavreynenko, 44, a librarian from Kiev, said Ukrainians were ready to take up arms to defend the country, and were frustrated at mixed messages from the authorities.
“Of course we are all ready to go,” he said next to a display of homemade mortar tubes and molotov cocktails used in the uprising against Yanukovich. “We have all served in the military. We have military specialisms. If we can build our own mortar tube like that, we can do even better…. But it needs to be organized. You can’t just get a bunch of guys, grab sticks and clubs and race off to Crimea.”