While it may have been pushed back from the front pages to keep confidence high, things in the Crimea, and in Ukraine in general (which may or may not waved goodbye to its gold reserves) are going from bad to worse with every passing day, with the near term catalyst of course being this Sunday Crimean referendum vote, which seems like a done deal, and which will give Russia a carte blanche to annex the territory over the howls of protest from Ukraine’s coup government, and the west of course.
Making this outcome one step clower, overnight the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea adopted an independence declaration from Ukraine which is necessary for holding a March 16 referendum.
“We, the members of the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Sevastopol City Council, with regard to the charter of the United Nations and a whole range of other international documents and taking into consideration the confirmation of the status of Kosovo by the United Nations International Court of Justice on July, 22, 2010, which says that unilateral declaration of independence by a part of the country doesn’t violate any international norms, make this decision,” says the text of the declaration, which was published by the Crimean media.
As RT reports, the document was adopted during an extraordinary session of parliament. 78 of 100 members of the parliament voted in favor of the declaration.
The Crimean parliament’s vote to become an independent sovereign state paves the way for the March 16 referendum for the Crimean Autonomous Republic and the city of Sevastopol to join Russia. If the referendum is in favor, the Crimean authorities will request for their country to become a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. The declaration was signed by the speaker of the Supreme Council of Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov, and the head of the Sevastopol City Council, Yury Doynikov.
“We adopted the declaration of independence to make the upcoming referendum legitimate and transparent,” Konstantinov said. “Now we declare ourselves the Republic of Crimea, we don’t add ‘autonomous.”
After Tuesday’s declaration of independence, Crimea will never rejoin Ukraine, Konstantinov added. He said that Crimea will adopt the Russian ruble as its currency soon after the referendum.
Not unexpectedly, the west, and Ukraine specifically, continue to make loud noises over the referendum, with the latest development is Kiev sending an ultimatum to Crimea. Guardian reports that “Ukraine’s parliament has warned the regional assembly in Crimea that it faces dissolution unless it cancels a referendum it has called to join the region to Russia.”
A resolution, supported by a parliamentary vote, gave the Crimean parliament until Wednesday to call off the referendum, due to take place on Sunday. The Crimean parliament on Tuesday passed a motion stating that it would become independent in the event of a yes vote and then seek to join the Russian Federation, arguing that “the unilateral declaration of independence of part of a state does not violate any international laws”.
There is the minor matter of enforcing this ultimatum in a territory largely controlled by Russian forces:
Also on Tuesday, the acting Ukrainian president, Oleksander Turchinov, announced that a new national guard would be formed in response to Russian attempts to annex Crimea.
Turchinov said mismanagement of the armed forces under former president Viktor Yanukovych meant that the Ukrainian military had to be rebuilt “effectively from scratch”. The acting defence minister said the country had only 6,000 combat-ready infantry compared with more than 200,000 Russian troops on its eastern borders.
Good luck with that.
But aside from the actual area of physical confrontation, the real conflict continues behind the scenes. It is here that we find Russia president Putin has apparently rejected a U.S. proposal to resolve the dispute over Ukraine that had been put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry over the past week, according to senior Russian and U.S. officials. WSJ reported that “Mr. Putin’s decision led Mr. Kerry to put off a Russian invitation to meet Mr. Putin in Russia, as early as the beginning of this week in Sochi, to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to these officials.”
Moscow and Washington on Monday each blamed the other for the diplomatic stumble and for failing to defuse the most serious U.S.-Russian standoff since the end of the Cold War.
Residents of the Crimean region of Ukraine are scheduled to vote Sunday on whether to secede from their country and join the Russian federation.
Despite the setback, U.S. and Russian officials stressed Monday that discussions on the former Soviet state were ongoing. The State Department didn’t rule out Mr. Kerry visiting Moscow to meet Mr. Putin.
“The United States needs to see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on the diplomatic proposals we have made to facilitate direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said.
Send in the Kerry again perhaps? Speaking of political cadavers, ousted Ukraine president Yanukovich, whose political future even Putin said is over, appeared on TV earlier today and reminded everyone he was still the legitimate leader:
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said in a televised press conference that he is still the legitimate leader of the country. It was his second statement made from the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don where he fled to when he was removed from power by the Ukrainian Parliament.
“I want to remind you that I am not only still the legitimate president of Ukraine but also the supreme commander of the army and I haven’t stopped my duties as president early – I am still alive.”
He took no questions from the press after his speech.
Yanukovych claimed that he was still the legitimate leader of Ukraine and that he fled Ukraine because of a direct threat to his and his family’s lives.
He added he would return to Ukraine soon.
He called the upcoming May 25 presidential election “illegal” and said that any government voted in would also be unconstitutional
He said the US and West should not be backing or funding the new “bandit” government which had carried out an illegal coup d’etat.
And then there is everything else. Reading Reuters:
A pro-Russian force opened fire in seizing a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on Monday and NATO announced reconnaissance flights along its eastern frontiers as confrontation around the Black Sea peninsula showed no sign of easing. Ukrainian activists trying to cross into Crimea to show solidarity with opponents of last week’s Russian military takeover there said they were halted by men in uniforms of the now outlawed riot police. One of these fired at close range, hitting a man in the chest, apparently with rubber bullets.
With diplomacy at a standstill, Russia said the United States had spurned an invitation to hold new talks on resolving the crisis, the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War – although Washington said later a meeting of foreign ministers was possible this week, if Moscow shows it is ready to “engage”.
The U.S.-led NATO defense alliance said AWACS early warning aircraft, once designed to counter feared Soviet nuclear missile strikes, would start reconnaissance flights on Tuesday over Poland and Romania to monitor the situation in Ukraine, flying from bases in Germany and Britain.
The United States on Tuesday will also begin previously planned military training exercises in the region, the first since the Russian intervention in Crimea. A U.S. Navy destroyer will participate in maneuvers with Romanian and Bulgarian warships in the Black Sea, across from Crimea. In Poland, U.S. fighter jets will take part in joint exercises.
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On Monday, a Ukrainian defense official said a Russian-led military force of about a dozen men fired in the air as they took control of a Ukrainian naval base near the town of Bakhchisaray, though no one was hurt.
The force was accompanied by the base’s Ukrainian commander. He persuaded a number of his men to join the Russian forces while allowing others who refused to leave, the Ukrainian official, Vladislav Seleznyov wrote on Facebook. The Russian force later drove off with nine Ukrainian vehicles.
Yarik Alexandrov, one of the Ukrainian naval personnel who refused to pledge allegiance to Moscow, told Reuters near the base that he and his comrades at first refused to surrender. “Then they started shooting round our feet and we surrendered,” he said. “What could we do? We had no weapons.”
Similar small confrontations have taken place at other Ukrainian bases around Crimea, although shooting has been rare and there has so far been no bloodshed. Russia denies its troops are involved – a stance ridiculed in Kiev and the West.
In a sign of the peninsula’s growing isolation from the Ukrainian mainland, armed men prevented a convoy of cars from a Ukrainian activist group crossing into Crimea.
The group was part of the Maidan movement behind the protests that forced Yanukovich to flee to Russia. Ukrainian television showed men in the uniform of the Berkut riot police, banned by the new authorities for its role in shooting dozens of demonstrators in Kiev last month, blocking the road south.
One was shown firing twice, hitting a man in the chest. His injuries appeared minor, suggesting the use of rubber bullets.
In other armed action, Russian forces took over a military hospital and a missile unit. Reuters correspondents also saw a big Russian convoy on the move just outside the port city of Sevastopol near a Ukrainian air defense base.
It comprised more than 100 vehicles, including around 20 armored personnel carriers, plus mobile artillery.
In conclusion, just so there is no confusion about who is in charge of Crimea…