(Washington, D.C.) — Is Vladimir Putin preparing Russian forces to move against Ukraine?
I pray not, but at the moment, there are mixed signals, and U.S. and Ukrainian officials are clearly worried and warning Russia not to intervene.
Here are the latest developments:
- Russia Warns Of “Dangerous” Dilemma In Ukraine — “Forcing Ukraine to choose between close ties with Russia or the West is ‘dangerous,’ the Russian foreign minister has warned. Urging the European Union and the United States not to intervene in shaping the country’s future, Sergei Lavrov said: ‘It’s dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: “You are either with us or against us,”‘” reports Sky News in London.
- “Russian President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 Russian combat troops on high alert for war games Wednesday, rattling nerves in a neighboring Ukraine already consumed by upheaval,” reports NBC News.
- The U.S. issued a “blunt warning” to Russia, saying any military intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake,” the Associated Press reported.
- “Russia sent fighter jets to patrol the border with Ukraine, reportedly gave shelter to the country’s fugitive president and pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of a strategic region, deepening the crisis for Ukraine’s new government even as it was being formed,” reports the Associated Press.
- “Pro-Russian gunmen have seized the parliament and local government offices in the Ukrainian region of Crimea early Thursday, “barricading themselves inside and raising a Russian flag above the building,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “The commandeering of the building marks a sharp escalation of events in the ethnically Russian-dominated region that has become a flashpoint for a backlash against the pro-Western protesters that drove Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader from power on Saturday.”
- “Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, declared on Thursday that he remained the lawful president of the country and appealed to Russia to ‘secure my personal safety from the actions of extremists,'” reports the New York Times. “Russian news agencies reported that he had already arrived in Russia, but officials did not immediately confirm that.”
Excerpts from today’s report in the New York Times:
Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks were his first since he appeared in a video on Saturday night after fleeing Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, for eastern Ukraine.
His defiance of the country’s new interim leaders only deepened the political turmoil in the country and threatened to draw Russia more deeply into the conflict.
Mr. Yanukovych, in a letter published by news agencies here, went on to suggest that largely Russian regions of Ukraine – including the east and Crimea – did not accept “the anarchy and outright lawlessness” that had gripped the country and said that orders by the new authorities to use the armed forces to impose order were unlawful.
He clearly meant the response to pro-Russia demonstrations in Crimea, which took an ugly turn on Thursday morning when armed gunmen seized control of the regional Parliament in Simferopol.
“I, as the actual president, have not allowed the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in the ongoing internal political events,” he said, contradicting early reports that he had ordered the military to intervene in Kiev, only to have his order rebuffed. “I continue to order this. In the case that anyone begins to give a similar order to the armed forces and power structures, those orders will be unlawful and criminal.”
Rumors that Mr. Yanukovych had arrived in Russia first surfaced on Wednesday night, with unnamed sources variously putting him at a hotel in Moscow — which denied it on Thursday — or in a government sanitarium outside the city.
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in a brief telephone interview that he was not able to speak on the matter now.
On Wednesday night, he said he did not know if Mr. Yanukovych had arrived, but a senior member of the upper house of Parliament said he knew for a fact that it was not true….
Russia has denounced the political upheaval in Kiev and refused to recognize the interim government.
At the same time, officials have expressed deep frustration with, and at times ridicule of, Mr. Yanukovych’s handling of the crisis.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, has repeatedly said that Ukraine’s leaders were bound by an agreement mediated by three European foreign ministers.
That agreement, signed last Friday, called for an interim national unity government and new elections, but not until December.
Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev the next day, as security forces that had clashed with protesters withdrew from Kiev’s center and even members of his own party began resigning or changing sides. The new Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has since impeached him, begun to form a new government and called elections to be held in May.
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