Ukraine’s EU embassy details ‘Abkhazia scenario’
Ukraine’s embassy to the EU has detailed Russian military movements in Crimea, saying operations to seize control began one week ago.
The Ukrainian embassy, in a two-page note circulated to EU diplomats on Friday (28 February) - and seen by EUobserver - cited seven “illegal military activities of the Russian Federation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine.”
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Going back to February 21 and 22, it says Russia moved 16 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers of the 801st Marine Corps brigade from the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, which it leases from Ukraine, to the Crimean towns of Kaha, Gvardiiske, and Sevastopol.
It notes that on 23 February three BTR-80s moved from the base to the town of Khersones.
On 26 February, 10 armoured vehicles from the 801st brigade moved “into the depth of the Crimean peninsula towards Simferopol.”
On 28 February, 12 Mi-24 Russian attack helicopters flew from Anapa in Russia to the Kacha airfield in Crimea “despite [the fact] clearance was granted only for 3 helos.”
The same day five Il-76 Russian military transport planes landed at Gvardiiske with no clerance at all, while 400 Russian troops from the Ulyanovsk Airborne Brigade moved to Cape Fiolent, near Sevastopol.
The Ukrainian document says that also on Friday: “Belbek airport (Sevastopol) was blocked by an armed unit of the Russian Fleet (soldiers with no marking but not concealing their affiliation). Simferopol airport occupied by more than 100 soldiers with machine guns wearing camouflage, unmarked but not concealing their affiliation to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
It adds that Captain Oleksandr Tolmachov, a Russian Black Sea Fleet officer, led a group of 30 soldiers who blocked the Sevastopol Marine Security detachment of the State Border Service of Ukraine.
Speaking in Kiev on Friday, Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said: “They are provoking us into an armed conflict. Based on our intelligence, they’re working on scenarios analogous to Abkhazia, in which they provoke conflict, and then they start to annex territory.”
He added: “Ukraine’s military will fulfill its duties, but will not succumb to provocation.”
He also said Russia’s actions violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, signed by Russia, the UK, Ukraine, and the US.
Russia in 2008 invaded Georgia saying Georgian forces had fired on its “peacekeeping” troops in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. After an eight-day war, Russia retreated from Georgia proper, but entrenched its occupation of South Ossetia and a second breakaway entity, Abkhazia, in what is widely seen as a way of blocking Georgia’s EU and Nato aspirations.
The Budapest document obliges signatories to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” It also says they “will consult in the event a situation arises which raises a question concerning these commitments.”
There is no shortage of consultations.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin on Friday phoned the British and German leaders and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy.
Lithuania, which currently holds the UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency, also called a meeting of UNSC ambassadors in New York.
Statements coming from the Budapest signatories echo the terms of the agreement.
A spokesman for British leader David Cameron said he told Putin “that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.” US President Barack Obama said on TV “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Sweden, a close US ally, corroborated Ukraine’s accusations. “Obvious that there is Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Likely immediate aim is to set up puppet pro-Russian semi-state in Crimea,” Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said.
The Polish foreign ministry noted: “Any decisions that will be taken in the coming days, including of military nature, could have irreparable consequences for the international order.”
The UN meeting in New York did little to calm nerves.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, told press afterward: "We are strong enough to defend ourselves.”
Russia’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said all Russian military activity in Crimea is “within the framework” of a 1997 Ukraine-Russia treaty governing the use of its Sevastopol base.
Churkin added the EU bears “responsibility” for events because three EU foreign ministers - from France, Germany, and Poland - on 21 February signed a deal between Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, and opposition MPs which says he is to stay in power until December.
Yanukovych fled Kiev the next day when Kiev protesters rejected the agreement and threatened to storm his palace.
Churkin accused the EU of fomenting the revolution by criticising Yanukovych for refusing to sign an EU association and free trade treaty and by sending VIPs to Kiev to mingle with demonstrators. “They emphasize sovereignty. But they behave as if Ukraine was a province of the European Union, not even a country, but a province," he said.
For his part, Andrew Wilson, an analyst at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, who was in Kiev during the unrest, told EUobserver on Saturday the Budapest accord should not be seen as a Nato-type treaty which obliges signatories to use military force
But he noted that the 1994 memorandum poses Cold War-type questions.
“Are we [the West] going to send a warship through the Bosphorus?” he said, referring to the channel which leads from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea and Crimea.
“These kind of questions were asked in the Cold War: Would America be willing to lose Detroit [in a Russian nuclear strike] to save Berlin? Later it was about Vilnius [when Lithuania joined Nato in 2004], now it’s about Simferopol. Budapest is not Article 5. But if we are being logical, it does offer security guarantees and it is still in force,” he added, referring to the Nato treaty’s Article 5 on mutual defence.
Crimea is a majority ethnic Russian region which became part of Ukraine in 1954.
Its local parliament this week elected a new leader, pro-Russian politician Sergiy Aksyonov, who called a referendum on independence on 30 March.
The ethnic Russian population made up 49.6 percent of Crimea in 1939. It currently makes up some 58 percent, after Stalin deported its Armenian, Bulgarian, Jewish, German, Greek, and Tatar minorities during World War II. But Russians are in a minority in nine Crimean districts.