With the Olympics over it appears that Vladimir Putin is no longer worried about image and has turned his attention to something much closer to his heart, the rebuilding of the former Soviet empire, beginning with Ukraine.
After the Russian friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office by the Parliament last week he continued to maintain that he was the legitimate head of the government and called on Russia to intervene on his behalf. Shortly after that he fled the country still maintaining his claim that he was the only legitimate President.
President Obama immediately warned Putin against intervention saying that if he did so “there will be costs.”
Putin defiantly ordered massive troop “maneuvers” near Ukraine’s eastern border beginning on Friday. While Russian military authorities described these maneuvers as merely an exercise to assure that the troops are prepared for action the choice of locations leaves little doubt that the true intention is to intimidate the pro west faction which removed Yanukovych.
The division in the country is along ethnic lines with the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine supporting closer ties to Russia and the ethnic Ukrainians in the rest of the nation desiring to be more closely affiliated with the European Union. In Crimea the predominately Russian population has called on Putin to send in troops to support them against the rest of the nation.
It now appears that Putin may indeed have ordered troops into Crimea and that they have taken over two airports there as well as other key facilities.
CNN reporter Diana Magnay reported from Semferopol, Crimea on Friday that a group of armed men wearing masks and uniforms with no insignias of any kind had taken over calling themselves the People’s Militia of Crimea.
While they are calling themselves a militia they appear to be highly organized and are very well armed with Kalashnikov rifles and when locals who are standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they guard the facilities they have taken over were questioned about their identity they said that they did not know who they were or where they came from.
When Magnay attempted to ask them, through and interpreter where they were from and if they were Russian, they responded with silence.
On Thursday another group of unidentified gunman stormed the Crimean regional parliament inviting in pro-Russian military police to hold the building and install a pro-Russian leader.
While Russia continues to deny that any troops have crossed the border into Ukraine several videos of what appear to be Russian helicopters flying over Crimea have been uploaded to the internet.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev told the Security Council in a closed-door emergency session that there had been “illegal crossing [of] the borders by Russian military transport aircraft IL-76, about 10 of them, and that 11 military attack helicopters had also violated Ukrainian air space.”
Watch the CNN report below.