As of Monday, there were no reported fatalities in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and only one darkly comic casualty.
The New York Times reported that Lieutenant General Mykhailo Kutsyn had become Ukraine’s latest military commander on Friday, February 28 when his predecessor Admiral Yuriy Ilyin “was relieved of his post after traveling to Crimea and…having a heart attack.”
That was quick work, and probably just as well. Ilyin had held the position only since February 19. He was appointed by deposed Ukrainian president Yanukovych after his predecessor was “fired for being unwilling to attack protesters in Kiev.”
With the Ukraine so occupied by domestic troubles, Russia saw an opening. The Duma voted last week to give President Vladimir Putin wide powers to protect Russian interests and Russians living in Ukraine, against a new regime that was less friendly than its corrupt pro-Putin predecessor.
This weekend, Putin sent more troops into the Crimea, a peninsula that juts out south from the Ukraine into the Black Sea that already sported a Russian military base on leased land. The troops fanned out and secured the area.
Russian troops encountered no organized resistance and quite a bit of cheering. The residents of Crimea are majority Russian and are probably inclined to annexation, so they’re no threat. Ukrainian troops from the rest of the country were not thick on the ground and not prepared to resist.
The rest of the world fumed impotently. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a G8 summit at Sochi. President Barack Obama put in a 90-minute phone call. The EU and UN began the usual apparatus of condemnation. Sanctions were threatened. Consequences were promised.
But the bottom line was, as long as Russia could take the Crimea peacefully and didn’t advance any further, there wasn’t a whole lot the rest of the world, or even the Ukraine for that matter, was willing to do.
There are troubling signs either that Putin is a world class bluffer or that he’s about to push things too far:
- Reuters reports that Putin today “attended the final day of war games he ordered on Feb. 26 to test the combat-readiness of his armed forces in western and central parts of Russia, regions adjacent to Ukraine.”
- Russian armed forces issued an ultimatum to the few Ukrainian troops already surrounded in the Crimea: surrender or “face the storm.”
- Russia’s financial markets and its currency are taking a beating on the theory that Putin is serious about a broader conflict.
All eyes are on Putin because he is “the decider,” to borrow a phrase. If the Russian president backs off, his nation will probably keep the Crimea. If not, there’s no telling how crazy things are about to get.