Russian forces have reportedly begun storming a Ukrainian military base in the Crimean capital Simferopol, killing one serviceman and wounding an officer. Twenty people have barricaded themselves in the building according to The Independent UK.
One serviceman in the building said, “We are being stormed. We have about 20 people here and about 10 to 15 others, including women.” Russians are demanding their surrender.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said this has moved from a political to a military conflict.
Russia has prepared a draft bill to annex Crimea proclaiming it “has always been an inseparable part of Russia”.
Putin claims he has no interest in invading Eastern Ukraine or Central Ukraine but last Saturday, the Russians seized a gas plant in Eastern Ukraine. The NY Times reported that “the seizure of the gas terminal in the Kherson region near a town called Strelkovoye” drew an immediate response from Ukraine whose soldiers now surround the plant though no shots have been fired.
The pro-Russian government in Crimea issued a statement saying its “self-defense” forces had seized the gas terminal because Ukraine had turned off the supply of fuel, leaving homes, hospitals and schools without heat or electricity. The government also said that it found the terminal rigged with explosives “with the goal of totally destroying it,” which would cut off gas to eastern cities in Crimea. Those claims cannot be verified independently according to the NY Times.
Armed men left the Moscow Hotel in Simferopol Crimea after taking over some floors.
Obama’s response was to ban visas and freeze assets for 11 lesser Russian and Ukrainian officials. Some or all of these targeted officials have no assets to seize.
Obama’s weak response is being greeted by ridicule. One of the officials, Dmitry Rogozin, said he thought some “prankster” must have drafted this bill.
Ambassador Bolton, in an interview with Greta Van Susteren last night said this when asked for his response on the sanctions: “Well, this is embarrassing by how weak it is. But sanctioning 11 individuals after weeks of talking about freezing assets? Do you think these people left any assets in the United States left to be frozen? And obviously, by not sanctioning Putin himself, that’s a signal right there. If the administration wanted to use economic pressure on Russia, it has plenty of possibilities to do so. Stop Russian banks from operating in the United States. Tell Aeroflot to stop flying here. But to engage in these kinds of symbolic acts, not against the big oligarchs, not against the people with real money whose wives want to shop on Fifth Avenue, but against basically political figures in the Ukraine and Russia. It’s really a pathetic performance.”