Sunday, 9 March 2014
Ukraine’s Crimean city of Sevastopol has voted to become part of Russia, mirroring an earlier vote by the region’s parliament and consolidating support for the majority ethnic Russian region to formally secede from Ukraine in an upcoming popular vote. The Sevastopol city council voted “to join the Russian Federation as a subject,” the council said in a statement Thursday evening. The city, which has a separate administrative status from the rest of Crimea, will still take part in a public referendum to formalize the decision, scheduled by the Crimean parliament for March 16. The referendum will offer voters two choices: to either approve the secession or for the primarily Russian-speaking peninsula to remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine. Crimea’s surprise vote on secession, while lacking any immediate practical effect, deepened the ongoing political crisis in the region after thousands of troops – apparently under Russian command, but lacking official insignia – took control of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea in the past week. The acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, dismissed the referendum plan, calling it “a farce” and “a crime against the state,” and claiming in a televised address Thursday evening that the Ukrainian parliament would move to dissolve the Crimean one. US President Barack Obama denounced Crimea's move as illegal under the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and ordered financial and visa sanctions for those responsible for the vote, which he said threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine. US allies in the European Union swiftly followed with a matching set of visa sanctions, threatening further measures if the crisis could not be defused. Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for an hour by phone about the situation on Thursday evening, according to statements by both governments. On the Russian side, the conversation “revealed differences in approaches and assessments of the causes of the current crisis,” the Kremlin said. Putin said in the call that Ukraine’s current government was illegitimate, and that “Russia cannot ignore [Crimea’s] appeals for help in this regard,” but that it would act in full compliance with international law. Russian and Crimean officials have refused to recognize the new central government in Kiev, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22. Obama proposed a diplomatic strategy under which international monitors would be introduced to stabilize Crimea, the Russian military would withdraw from the region and direct talks would take place between the Ukrainian and Russian governments, according to a statement by the White House. The presidents agreed for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry to continue talks on the situation.
WASHINGTON, DC -- “Meet Viktor Yanukovych, who is running for the presidency of Ukraine.” Vladimir Putin and I were standing in his office at the presidential dacha in late 2004 when Yanukovych suddenly appeared from a back room. Putin wanted me to get the point. He’s my man, Ukraine is ours — and don’t forget it. The “Ukrainian problem” has been brewing for some time between the West and Russia. Since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the United States and Europe have tried to convince Russia that the vast territory should not be a pawn in a great-power conflict but rather an independent nation that could chart its own course. Putin has never seen it that way. For him, Kiev’s movement toward the West is an affront to Russia in a zero-sum game for the loyalty of former territories of the empire. The invasion and possible annexation of Crimea on trumped-up concerns for its Russian-speaking population is his answer to us. The immediate concern must be to show Russia that further moves will not be tolerated and that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is sacrosanct. Diplomatic isolation, asset freezes and travel bans against oligarchs are appropriate. The announcement of air defense exercises with the Baltic states and the movement of a U.S. destroyer to the Black Sea bolster our allies, as does economic help for Ukraine’s embattled leaders, who must put aside their internal divisions and govern their country. The longer-term task is to answer Putin’s statement about Europe’s post-Cold War future. He is saying that Ukraine will never be free to make its own choices — a message meant to reverberate in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states — and that Russia has special interests it will pursue at all costs. For Putin, the Cold War ended “tragically.” He will turn the clock back as far as intimidation through military power, economic leverage and Western inaction will allow. After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the United States sent ships into the Black Sea, airlifted Georgian military forces from Iraq back to their home bases and sent humanitarian aid. Russia was denied its ultimate goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government, an admission made to me by the Russian foreign minister. The United States and Europe could agree on only a few actions to isolate Russia politically. But even those modest steps did not hold. Despite Russia’s continued occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the diplomatic isolation waned and then the Obama administration’s “reset” led to an abrupt revision of plans to deploy missile defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland. Talk of Ukraine and Georgia’s future in NATO ceased. Moscow cheered. This time has to be different. Putin is playing for the long haul, cleverly exploiting every opening he sees. So must we, practicing strategic patience if he is to be stopped. Moscow is not immune from pressure. This is not 1968, and Russia is not the Soviet Union. The Russians need foreign investment; oligarchs like traveling to Paris and London, and there are plenty of ill-gotten gains stored in bank accounts abroad; the syndicate that runs Russia cannot tolerate lower oil prices; neither can the Kremlin’s budget, which sustains subsidies toward constituencies that support Putin. Soon, North America’s bounty of oil and gas will swamp Moscow’s capacity. Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and championing natural gas exports would signal that we intend to do precisely that. And Europe should finally diversify its energy supply and develop pipelines that do not run through Russia. Many of Russia’s most productive people, particularly its well-educated youth, are alienated from the Kremlin. They know that their country should not be only an extractive industries giant. They want political and economic freedoms and the ability to innovate and create in today’s knowledge-based economy. We should reach out to Russian youth, especially students and young professionals, many of whom are studying in U.S. universities and working in Western firms. Democratic forces in Russia need to hear American support for their ambitions. They, not Putin, are Russia’s future. Most important, the United States must restore its standing in the international community, which has been eroded by too many extended hands of friendship to our adversaries, sometimes at the expense of our friends Continued inaction in Syria, which has strengthened Moscow’s hand in the Middle East, and signs that we are desperate for a nuclear agreement with Iran cannot be separated from Putin’s recent actions. Radically declining U.S. defense budgets signal that we no longer have the will or intention to sustain global order, as does talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan whether the security situation warrants it or not. We must not fail, as we did in Iraq, to leave behind a residual presence. Anything less than the American military’s requirement for 10,000 troops will say that we are not serious about helping to stabilize that country. The notion that the United States could step back, lower its voice about democracy and human rights and let others lead assumed that the space we abandoned would be filled by democratic allies, friendly states and the amorphous “norms of the international community.” Instead, we have seen the vacuum being filled by extremists such as al-Qaeda reborn in Iraq and Syria; by dictators like Bashar al-Assad, who, with the support of Iran and Russia, murders his own people; by nationalist rhetoric and actions by Beijing that have prompted nationalist responses from our ally Japan; and by the likes of Vladimir Putin, who understands that hard power still matters. These global developments have not happened in response to a muscular U.S. foreign policy: Countries are not trying to “balance” American power. They have come due to signals that we are exhausted and disinterested. The events in Ukraine should be a wake-up call to those on both sides of the aisle who believe that the United States should eschew the responsibilities of leadership. If it is not heeded, dictators and extremists across the globe will be emboldened. And we will pay a price as our interests and our values are trampled in their wake.
BELBEK, Ukraine -- A tense and dangerous test of wills took place Tuesday on a rainy hilltop at a dilapidated Cold War-era airfield here, as Ukrainian soldiers confronted Russian troops and demanded to be allowed to return to their base. Just a few hours after the 5 a.m. deadline reportedly issued by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for Ukrainian troops in Crimea to switch their allegiance from the new government in Kiev to the pro-Russian leadership in Crimea, the first shots of the conflict were fired into the air here by a pro-Russia militiaman. Russia denied imposing any such ultimatum. No one was injured in the continuing impasse, but there were tense moments as the two sides faced off, and Ukrainian troops were forced to choose between their oath to Ukraine and their feelings of affinity with Russia. Col. Yuliy Mamchuk, commander of Ukraine’s Sevastopol Aviation Unit, said the Russian troops appeared Thursday and took up positions surrounding the base. On Monday, as the purported deadline to surrender approached, the Russians entered the airfield and forced the Ukrainians out at gunpoint. “The men felt very bad. They thought they had abandoned their post. We swore an oath to serve,” Mamchuk said. The Ukrainians were also confused about Russia’s intentions, as the two militaries, especially here on the Crimean Peninsula, had worked closely in the past. On Monday night, there were rousing, patriotic speeches in the Ukrainian barracks. “We decided we would return to work. Any man who did not want to come, he would not be branded a traitor or a coward,” Mamchuk said. “Every man came.” The 200 Ukrainians marched back up the hill to tell the Russians they wanted to return to their jobs, to service the airplanes and guard the airfield and warehouse, which was filled with valuable aviation equipment and weaponry. Their wives accompanied them, but when they saw the snipers, the troops sent the women back. Mamchuk negotiated with a Russian officer who would identify himself only by the first name “Roman.” The Russians said they needed approval from their superiors to allow the Ukrainians to return to the base. After no one came, Mamchuk was approached by a member of a civilian self-defense militia from Sevastopol. Mamchuk explained the situation again, though now he was negotiating not with a Russian officer but a Crimean bar owner from nearby Balaklava in mismatched fatigues and black sneakers, who only an hour earlier had been arguing with journalists at the front gate to the base. He gave his name as Yuriy. Beside him stood another militiaman, his face covered by a black mask. “I realize this looks like a comedy,” Yuriy said, but it was serious business. He said the people were afraid the Ukrainian airmen would put their planes in the sky and bomb Sevastopol. Asked about Russian forces behind him, the soldiers still without markings or insignia, Yuriy said he didn’t know anything about them. The Ukrainian colonel could make no progress. “They’re stalling,” he said. “They’re playing games.” He sent his men back down the hill to their barracks. Asked what would happen next, Mamchuk said: “I am feeling negative. There shouldn't be this kind of escalation with the Russian troops.” He said the Ukrainians had already sent their children out of Crimea, back to the Ukrainian mainland, after the servicemen and their families started receiving threatening phone calls and text messages. Asked about the wives, Mamchuk said: “They’re stubborn. They won’t leave us.”
WASHINGTON, DC -- Since the first major protests in Kiev that triggered the current crisis with Moscow, American intelligence agencies have been on high alert for cyberattacks aimed at the new government in Ukraine. They were a bit late: the attacks started long before President Viktor F. Yanukovych was forced from office, and as might be expected, no one can quite pinpoint who is behind them, although some suspicion is falling on Russia. According to a report published by the British-based defense and security company BAE Systems, dozens of computer networks in Ukraine have been infected for years by a cyberespionage “tool kit” called Snake, which seems similar to a system that several years ago plagued the Pentagon, where it attacked classified systems. The malware appeared many more times this year in Ukraine, as the protests in Kiev picked up their pace. The protesters were angered by Mr. Yanukovych’s decision not to pursue closer trade and political ties with Europe, which has been vying with Russia for influence in Ukraine. Snake — also known as Ouroboros, for the serpent in Greek mythology — gives attackers “full remote access to the compromised system,” according to the BAE report released Friday. BAE cited circumstantial evidence that the attacks originated in Russia, saying that the malware developers operate in the Moscow time zone and that there is some Russian text in the code. But American intelligence officials said that it was unclear if the use of the malware was state-sponsored, and that Snake was just one of many types of malware that Ukraine is battling every day. Versions of Snake’s predecessor have been around since 2005, but the highly sophisticated one found in Ukraine appears to have been directed at government agencies. The attacks were aimed mostly at siphoning data from local computers to other servers, the report said. It identified 14 cases of Snake in Ukraine since the start of 2014, compared to eight cases in the whole of 2013. In all there have been 32 reported cases in Ukraine since 2010, out of 56 worldwide. One mystery is whether Snake is now being turned to purposes that go beyond mere espionage: manipulating or alerting computer networks in some way. Russian hackers — both those employed by the state and those working on their own — are known for their abilities to design sophisticated “implants” that both suck data out of a system and create a pathway for other malicious software to be injected. Documents stolen from the National Security Agency by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now living in Moscow and interviews with intelligence officials indicate the United States also has extensive capability to do similar things. “The usual Russian approach would be to design something that could both conduct surveillance and aid in an attack,” said one senior intelligence official, describing how the National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s Cyber Command were on the lookout for the kind of computer attacks that were unleashed on Estonia seven years ago. The precise origins of those attacks have never been completely understood. While some early reports about Snake compared it to Stuxnet, the American- and Israeli-designed worm that attacked Iran’s nuclear program, the inner workings of Snake appear to be quite different. Stuxnet took over the computer controllers that ran Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, spinning those centrifuges out of control. So far, there is no evidence that Snake can do that. American officials have never confirmed they were part of the operation against Iran, code-named “Olympic Games.” But what makes Snake particularly familiar to American officials is that they saw a version of it, then called “Agent.btz,” in the Pentagon’s own systems. The event was written in about 2010 by the deputy secretary of defense at the time, William J. Lynn, who raised the alarm about the military’s vulnerabilities to such attacks. In the four years since, however, the malware has become more powerful, and the BAE report described it as “one of the most sophisticated and persistent threats we track.” Snake has also shown up in Lithuania, Britain and Georgia, among other places. But the United States has only seen two cases so far, the BAE report indicates.
MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia signaled for the first time on Friday that it was prepared to annex the Crimea region of Ukraine, significantly intensifying its confrontation with the West over the political crisis in Ukraine and threatening to undermine a system of respect for national boundaries that has helped keep the peace in Europe and elsewhere for decades. Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said that they would support a vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and become a region of the Russian Federation, ignoring sanction threats and warnings, from the United States and other countries, that a vote for secession would violate Ukraine’s Constitution and international law. The Russian message was yet another in a series of political and military actions undertaken over the past week that outraged the West, even while the Kremlin’s final intentions remained unclear. As new tensions flared between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea, the moves by Russia raised the specter of a protracted conflict over the status of the region, which Russian forces occupied last weekend, calling into question not only Russia’s relations with the West but also post-Cold War agreements on the sovereignty of the nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The developments underscored how quickly the crisis has evolved. Earlier this week, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had said he did not foresee the possibility of the Crimean Peninsula becoming part of Russia. But on Friday, Russia’s parliamentary leaders, both strong allies of Mr. Putin, welcomed a delegation from Crimea’s regional assembly and declared that they would support a vote to break away from Ukraine, now scheduled for March 16. The referendum has been denounced by the fledgling national government in Kiev, which said it would invalidate the outcome and dissolve the Crimean Parliament. President Obama has also rejected the referendum, and the United States government announced sanctions on Thursday in response to Russia’s de facto military occupation. Russia denounced those sanctions in a blunt rejoinder on Friday evening, posted on the Foreign Ministry website. The statement said that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had spoken by telephone with Secretary of State John Kerry and warned that “hasty and ill-considered steps” to impose sanctions on Russian officials “would inevitably backfire on the United States itself.” Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry would soon meet again. A senior State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry, who was flying back to Washington after a trip to Europe and the Middle East, confirmed that Mr. Kerry had spoken with Mr. Lavrov, but that it was unclear when they would meet again. The Russians also sent menacing economic signals to the financially ailing interim central government in Kiev, which Russia has refused to recognize. Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, which supplies Ukraine with most of its gas, warned that it might shut off supplies unless Ukraine paid $1.89 billion owed to the company. “We cannot deliver gas for free,” Russian news agencies quoted Gazprom’s chief executive, Alexei Miller, as saying. Gazprom cut off gas to Ukraine for nearly two weeks in January 2009, causing severe economic problems for Ukraine and for other European customers who were dependent on supplies delivered through Ukraine. Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council, compared the planned referendum in Crimea to Scotland’s scheduled vote on whether to become independent from Britain. She did not mention that the national government in Britain had agreed to hold a referendum, while the Ukrainian government has not. The speaker of the Russian lower house, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, echoed Ms. Matviyenko’s remarks. “We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” he said. Their assertions came a day after Crimea’s regional assembly voted in a closed session to secede from Ukraine and apply to join the Russian Federation, and to hold a referendum for voters in the region to ratify the decision. On Friday, a delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow to lay the groundwork for joining Russia, strongly supported by senior lawmakers. In another telling sign of Russian government support, the Crimean delegates were cheered at an officially sanctioned rally in central Moscow that was shown at length on Russian state television, with songs and chants of “Russia, Moscow, Crimea.” News agencies quoted the police as saying 60,000 people attended. Even if the referendum proceeds, it was unclear what would happen next, given the wide gap between the positions of Russia and the West — most notably between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama, who spoke for an hour by phone on Thursday night. According to the White House, Mr. Obama urged Mr. Putin to authorize direct talks with Ukraine’s new government, permit the entry of international monitors and return his forces to the bases that Russia leases in Crimea. In a statement, the Kremlin offered a starkly different account of the phone call, emphasizing Russia’s view that the new government in Kiev had no authority because it was the result of what Mr. Putin called an anticonstitutional coup last month that had ousted Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president. The official Russian account of the phone call went on to say that the current Ukrainian leadership had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions” on the eastern and southeastern regions of the country, where pro-Russian sentiment is widespread. “Russia cannot ignore appeals connected to this, calls for help, and acts appropriately, in accordance with international law,” the statement said. In the United States, Mr. Obama was taking a wait-and-see attitude. He spoke by phone to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has been reluctant to pursue muscular sanctions against Russia because of the deep and interwoven economic relationship between the two countries. He headed to Florida for a speech on education and then a weekend off with his family, but aides promised he would be monitoring the crisis. “We’re hopeful that in the next few days, we’ll get greater clarity about whether or not the Russians are willing to take some concrete steps toward this offramp here,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. In Kiev, anti-Russian sentiment was hardening. The Right Sector movement, a nationalist group that was important in the deadly protests last month that drove Mr. Yanukovych from power, announced that its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, would run for president. Andriy Tarasenko, chairman of its local branch, also said the group was prepared to fight, in Crimea and elsewhere, “if the Kremlin tramples on us further.” With Washington and Moscow trading heated accusations of hypocrisy on the issue of respecting state sovereignty, validating Crimea’s secession would carry pointed political risks for Mr. Putin, given longstanding demands for independence from Russia by its own similarly autonomous republics in the Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya. Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, noted the parallel in a sharp post on Twitter. “If Russian government endorses Crimean referendum,” Mr. McFaul wrote, using abbreviations needed for a 140-character limit, “will they also allow/endorse similar votes in republics in the Russian Federation?” The West, which has insisted that the Ukrainian people are entitled to decide their future without interference from Russia, faces similar challenges as it seeks to explain why the people of Crimea should not necessarily decide their own fate. The United States and its European allies typically support self-determination, but have opposed independence for regions within their own borders, like Scotland in Britain or Catalonia in Spain. There was no sign on Friday that Russian armed forces were relaxing their tight clench on the Crimean Peninsula, with military bases surrounded and border crossings under strict control. There were news reports late Friday that pro-Russian militants had smashed through the gates of a Ukrainian Air Force base in the port of Sevastopol housing 100 Ukrainian troops, but that no shots had been fired. There were also reports that a number of Ukrainian journalists had been beaten by masked attackers and were missing. For the second consecutive day, an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 57-member organization that includes both Ukraine and Russia, was prevented from entering Crimea at a checkpoint blocked by armed men. Astrid Thors, an envoy from the group who had gone to Crimea earlier in the week, said in a telephone interview from Amsterdam that she had faced noisy, threatening crowds chanting pro-Russian slogans during her visit and had been forced to leave. Ms. Thors, the group’s high commissioner for national minorities, said she could have experienced the sort of predicament faced by a senior United Nations diplomat, Robert H. Serry, who was chased out of Crimea by gunmen earlier this week. “There was a risk the same could happen, that our movement could be hindered by the crowds,” Ms. Thors said. “We took precautionary principles. We shortened our stay.”
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian troops reportedly smash open the gates of a Ukrainian base. Russia's navy traps Ukrainian ships. Armed men refuse to allow military observers to enter Ukraine's Crimea region. The crisis in Ukraine took on a decidedly military flavor Friday as tensions flared between Moscow and Kiev over control of Crimea, even as the world's diplomats said conflict could be avoided. Crimea, a self-governing peninsula in southern Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and strong cultural ties to Russia, has become the epicenter of a battle for influence between Moscow, Kiev and the West since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out of office by protesters who were angered over his rebuff of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. In the days since Yanukovych was ousted, thousands of Russian troops have surrounded military bases and key infrastructure sites, and they have taken control of border crossings. At the same time, a political battle has been playing out between the two countries, with Russia's Parliament on Friday giving its defiant support to Crimean lawmakers who want to see their region split from Ukraine and join Russia. The lawmakers' unanimous call for a vote on separation prompted howls of outrage Thursday in the United States and Europe and the threat of sanctions, including asset freezes, visa bans and travel bans. The delegation from the Crimean Parliament, which said it would put the decision to a public vote on March 16, headed to Moscow on Friday and got a very different reaction. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia's upper house of Parliament, told the Crimean delegation it would "support and welcome" any decision made by the Crimean people to become a part of Russia. Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk condemned talk of a split. "I want to warn separatists and other traitors of the Ukrainian state who are trying to work against Ukraine, any of your decisions taken is unlawful, unconstitutional, and nobody in the civilized world is going to recognize the results of the so-called referendum of the so-called Crimean authorities," he said Friday. Russia has denounced Yanukovych's ouster as an illegitimate coup, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian authorities. Putin has insisted he has the right to use military force in Ukraine if necessary to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea. But Ukrainian officials say no threat exists, and Putin is using it as a pretext to control the region. U.S. President Barack Obama set out a potential solution to the crisis when he spoke to Putin on Thursday, the White House said. The proposal includes direct talks between Kiev and Moscow, the withdrawal of Russian forces, international support for elections on May 25, and the presence of international monitors to "ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians," Obama said. Crimean threat? What has mostly been a peaceful standoff in Crimea, with virtually no sign of Ukrainian military movement, appeared to take a turn on Friday when pro-Russian forces smashed open the gates of a Ukrainian base near Sevastopol that controls airspace in southern Ukraine, Vitaly Onishenko, a deputy commander at the base said. Ukraine's military spokesman initially said the forces were Cossacks, akin to Russian paramilitary troops, but Onishenko later dismissed that claim and said the forces were Russian and wore military uniforms with no insignia. Ukrainian troops refused to surrender and barricaded themselves inside a control room, Onishenko said. Outside the base, self-styled Crimean defense forces, similar to local militias, attacked journalists, he said. At least one person, believed to be a journalist, was injured and taken to a hospital, he said. The standoff at the base eventually ended with the Russian-speaking forces pulling back to the outside of the base, Onishenko said. Ukrainian authorities also reported that the Russian Black Sea Fleet sank a second of its own, old ships at the entrance to Lake Donuzlav, an inlet on the western coast of Crimea that is home to a Ukrainian naval base. Viktor Shmihanovsky, vice commander of the base, told CNN that several Ukrainian naval ships are now trapped inside. Unidentified armed troops also have blocked unarmed European military observers from entering the country for the second straight day. Masked men carrying rifles and wearing camouflage uniforms stopped the 43 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security organization, at a checkpoint separating the mainland from the Crimean peninsula, CNN's Matthew Chance said. One man, speaking in Russian, said: "I've been ordered by the government of Crimea not to let anyone in." And in signs that the pro-Russian Crimean authorities are clamping down on dissent within the peninsula, at least two Ukrainian channels, 1+1 and Channel 5, have been blocked from broadcasting. The head of 1+1 told CNN that Russian state TV outlet Channel One is now broadcasting on its frequency. A Bulgarian freelance journalist and his colleague also were assaulted while filming in Simferopol, the regional capital. The journalist told CNN he was wrestled to the ground, and a gun was put to his head. The incident was captured on surveillance footage and aired on a Ukrainian TV channel, Hromadske TV. The standoff has also prompted neighboring countries and their allies to boost military defenses, with the United States beefing up its number of fighter jets in Lithuania and Poland. The USS Truxton, a guided-missile destroyer, was also heading to the Black Sea to join in pre-planned military exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian forces. Meanwhile, as the West seeks to put the diplomatic squeeze on Russia, European Union nations said they'll suspend some talks with Russia and have threatened travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of a planned EU-Russia summit. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French public radio Friday that tougher measures are planned if Moscow doesn't act to de-escalate the situation. "And if another attempt is made, then we would enter into something completely different -- that is to say serious consequences for the relations between Europe and Russia," he said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against sanctions, saying in a statement that they would "inevitably boomerang" on the United States. But there's help on hand for the fledgling government in Kiev. Ukraine's new government and the EU have agreed to revive a trade deal and an aid package that could bring $15 million to Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund is also ready to help, the head of the agency's European section said. NATO is willing to help Ukraine's military "modernize and strengthen," Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN's Becky Anderson on Friday. Such aid is desperately needed. The Russian gas company, Gazprom, has not received any payment from Ukraine in February, according to the company's CEO, the Russian state news agency Itar-Tass, reported Friday. CEO Alexey Miller said Gazprom cannot give Ukraine gas for free, Itar-Tass reported. Paralympic protest Ukraine's Paralympic team sent just one member to participate in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi, said Dmitry Bulatov, Ukrainian minister of sports and youth. The decision to boycott the ceremonies, with the exception of a single flag bearer, was made unanimously by the team, he said. "This is how our team expresses protest against aggressors and occupants entering our land," Bulatov said. Official delegations from the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Poland earlier announced plans not to attend the Games. Athletes from those countries will still compete. Muslim minority fears for safety Russian speakers make up about 60% of Crimea's population of more than 2 million, but around a quarter are Ukrainian and 12% are Crimean Tatar, a predominately Muslim minority. Neither of the latter two groups would welcome a switch to Russian control. A CNN crew met with Crimean Tatars in the town of Bakhchisaray amid fears for their safety that have reminded some of past oppression under the Soviet Union. Many spent years in exile -- in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or other Soviet republics -- after the Soviet Union deported them for supposedly collaborating with Adolf Hitler. "It is not legal," one elderly man said. "We are the original nation of Crimea. Our Khan state was here. Russia left us with no rights. "We don't want to be with Russia, we want to be with Ukraine," he said.
MOSCOW, Russia -- Having occupied Crimea, Russia is stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine. So runs the plot invented by Russian propagandists to plunge Ukraine into chaos and seize the Crimean peninsula. Surreal as it sounds, the plot has been given some substance: parts of it only in the rantings of Russian politicians and journalists, parts — notably the bit about the rifles — in boots-on-the-ground reality. This spectacle of deception has jeopardised European security and pushed Russia into a confrontation with the West unlike any seen since the cold war. On February 27th, four days after the end of the Sochi Olympics, Russia in effect occupied Crimea, part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, under the pretence of protecting its Russian-speaking population. Russian forces based at various installations on the peninsula seized airports, government buildings and broadcasters within hours, and blockaded Ukrainian military bases. In Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, local people celebrated their liberation in the central square, waving Russian flags to the accompaniment of Cossack songs, a Soviet-era pop group, and the fleet’s choir. There was only one thing missing: the enemy. Everyone in Crimea. and now across eastern Ukraine, is talking about Ukrainian fascists, but nobody has actually seen one. “We have not seen them here yet, but we have seen them on television,” said Stanislav Nagorny, an aide to the leader of a local “self-defence” force in Sevastopol. The confusion was understandable: Russian television had unleashed a propaganda campaign impressive in both its intensity and cynicism, stoking ethnic hatred and exacerbating historical divides, mixing half truths with outright lies. Right-wing extremists and nationalists did take part in the revolution, but they do not control the government. Russia struck when Ukraine was at its weakest — mourning the deaths of those who died on the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, during an abortive crackdown by Mr Yanukovych, and struggling to form a new government. The Kremlin was greatly assisted in its task by Ukraine’s parliament which, despite the obvious tension between the Russian-speaking east of the country and the Ukrainian-speaking west, irresponsibly passed a bill (later dropped) that repealed the status of Russian as an official language on a par with Ukrainian. Parliament also failed to bring politicians from eastern Ukraine into the government. Into the soft underbelly The choreography was at once smooth and farcical. Assisted by Mr Yanukovych’s sudden reappearance on February 27th, Russia described events in Kiev as a coup while mounting a coup of its own to the south. As gunmen looked on, local deputies installed Sergei Aksenov, nicknamed “Goblin” and a rumoured ex-gangster, as prime minister (a perfectly legitimate procedure, according to Mr Putin). Mr Aksenov promptly called an unconstitutional referendum on Crimea’s status, declared himself in charge of Crimea's armed forces and called on Mr Putin for help. Days later Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia. On March 1st Mr Putin asked the upper house of Russia’s parliament to grant him the right to use military force in Ukraine. It dutifully did so, in a lurid and theatrical session that evoked the days of Soviet grandstanding and grand pretense. Senators competed to evoke to the greatest effect the horrors being visited upon Russians in Ukraine. Thus, under the guise of fighting fascism, Russia achieved a bloodless takeover that could not help but remind the West of the Nazi annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938-39. Still, not everything has gone quite to plan. Ukrainian troops in Crimea were put under enormous psychological pressure to defect, their officers blackmailed with threats of retribution to their families if they did not surrender. Thugs surrounded the Ukrainian naval headquarters, cutting off its water and electricity. But if Russia was hoping to follow the scenario of the Georgian war in 2008, when it managed to provoke the Georgians to fire first, it flopped. Ukrainian forces remained calm, the vast majority refusing to budge. As a Russian speaker who serves in the Ukrainian fleet put it ironically, “Russians do not surrender.” Dogged, as yet non-violent resistance seems to have given them a new sense of purpose and unity. Yet the tension could still result in violence. If it were to do so the Tatars, the indigenous Turkic people of Crimea, would fight on the side of the Ukrainian army. The clash of civilizations On March 4th, in his first public comments since the crisis broke, Mr Putin ludicrously denied that the troops on the ground were Russian forces. The very fact that he spoke lessened the tension, but what he said was not encouraging. Asked about the possibility of a wider war in Ukraine, Mr Putin sounded indifferent: it didn’t seem necessary, he said, but if he chose to invade eastern Ukraine, the move would be entirely legitimate. And as for the Budapest memorandum of 1994, under which Russia, America and Britain guaranteed Ukraine’s integrity in exchange for the country giving up its nuclear arsenal, Mr Putin no longer felt bound by it. Ukraine’s revolution, he claimed, has produced a new state with which Russia has no binding agreements. Later on the same day, Russia tested a ballistic missile. With the economy in the dumps, his personal popularity declining and discontent rising, Mr Putin needs to mobilise the country and tighten his control over its elites. Entering the 15th year of his reign, he lacks a narrative to carry him through until 2018 and beyond. A war with Ukraine could provide a boost if it led to the de facto annexation of Crimea, which in the Russian imagination is a storied, cherished territory, the place where Vladimir I adopted Christianity as the state religion of ancient Rus, and a part of Russia until 1954. It might equally backfire. If Mr Putin’s confrontation with the West results in isolation and real economic pain, it could further alienate the elites and the public at large — rather as the war in Afghanistan did. On March 3rd Moscow’s MICEX index fell by 11% (rebounding a fair bit the next day). The central bank spent $11.3 billion of its ample reserves defending the rouble; even so capital flight is likely to surge. After talking to Mr Putin Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, reportedly described him as “in another world.” It is a place where Mr Putin appears to see himself not as an aggressor, but as a defender of all Russians (including Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine). He is an historic figure who is reversing the course of history that brought the Soviet Union to its knees, a hero standing up to the alien West. When Mr Putin came to power in 2000, he was guided by the post-Soviet idea that Russia was converging with the West, albeit slowly and on its own terms. Membership of clubs such as the G8 mattered to him. This no longer seems to be the case. He appears to be driven by the idea that Russia is fundamentally different and morally superior. The fact that the Russia elite, dominated by former KGB men, is corrupt and cynical only strengthens the need for such an ideology: extraordinary corruption requires extraordinary justification. Maria Snegovaya, a scholar at Columbia University, argues that Mr Putin’s thinking is influenced by the writings of Ivan Ilyin, an émigré Russian philosopher of the first half of the 20th century, whose grave he has visited and whose works he often cites. “We know that Western nations don’t understand and don’t tolerate Russia’s identity…They are going to divide the united Russian ‘broom’ into twigs to break these twigs one by one, ” Ilyin wrote. A book of his essays, along with the works of like-minded philosophers, was given by the Kremlin as Christmas reading to its apparatchiks. Another favourite is “Third Empire: The Russia that Ought to Be”, a Utopian fantasy set in 2054 that features a ruler named Vladimir II, who integrates eastern Ukraine into a new Russian Union. In this world view, Ukraine’s revolutionary bid to escape to the West is a betrayal of Slavic brotherhood. Russia’s attempts to destabilise and split Ukraine are driven by a desire to “save” what it still considers to be part of the Russian world from Western annexation. This is the Kremlin’s way of punishing a traitor, demonstrating strength to the West and to its own population and preventing the emergence of an alternative civilisation on its territory. Mr Putin may not wish, or be able, formally to annex Crimea, and he says that Russia has no plans to do so. More likely he intends to use it as a destabilising factor and leverage for splitting Ukraine further. The ultimate goal may be turning it into a federation where tight Russian control of the eastern parts stops the country as a whole from moving towards the West. Repeating the Crimean scenario in the east of the country would be harder. One reason is the reluctance of local elites, including the oligarchs, police chiefs and criminal bosses, to cede their territory to their Russian counterparts. The interim government in Kiev has already appointed powerful tycoons to run the vulnerable areas in eastern and central Ukraine. Russia is already sending tremors through the industrial east. In Donetsk, the Ukrainian and Russian flags have alternated atop the local administrative offices. The pro-Russian crowds are warmed up by agents provocateurs and supported by “volunteers” from across the Russian border. Russian social networks have been used to recruit volunteers to go to Kharkiv, Donetsk and Odessa for “moral support” and to participate in anti-Ukrainian rallies. “We need men aged 18-45 who are already in Ukraine, or are ready to go,” says a page called Civil Defence of Ukraine. “Don’t take anything…with you. Remember you are just a tourist”. There are also strong rumours of the involvement of the Russian security services and forces loyal to Mr Yanukovych. On March 3rd a 1,000-strong crowd of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk stormed the building of the local administration and nominated as governor Pavel Gubarev, a marginal politician who was previously unknown in Donetsk. Mr Gubarev is an activist of the Eurasian Youth Movement, a Russian nationalist outfit set up after the Orange revolution of 2004 to counter the spread of Western ideas. Two days later Mr Gubarev was pushed out and the Kiev-appointed governor, the oligarch Sergei Taruta, walked in. On March 5th Mr Gubarev’s mob gathered again, 2,000 strong, some of them aggressive looking young men, many of them older. They shouted “Russia, Russia” as second-world-war anthems called on the Soviet country to rise against fascists. They retook the building only to be removed again the following day. Their “enemies” gathered a few hundred metres away by the church of St Michael the Archangel: largely Russian-speaking, mostly young and cosmopolitan. Yulia Kubanova, a 28-year-old who works in advertising, held a banner saying “Ukraine is United”. “I never asked whether I was ethnically Ukrainian or Russian,” she said. “I am a Ukrainian…I am proud of my country where people know what dignity is.” Ms Kubanova had been to lay flowers by for those who died in Kiev. A middle-aged woman attacked her: “She called me a Nazi and a whore.”