Here is Russia’s official statement on Ukraine. It’s quite telling.
Some of the assertions provide insight into Vladimir Putin’s view not only of the Kremlin-occupied peninsula of Crimea, but also of Ukraine as a whole. We’ve bolded four of them:
In recent days, the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated rapidly. The agreements reached between President Yanukovych and the opposition on 21 February have been scrapped by opposition leaders: the legitimate Head of State that was supposed to remain in office has been effectively ousted from the country, an interim president has been appointed, presidential elections have been set for 25 May, no steps have been made in the area of constitutional reform or joint investigation.
But more importantly, rather than taking account of the numerous appeals to national unity and reconciliation, political power in Kiev has been concentrated in the hands of far-right extremist elements that do not hide their xenophobic, anti-Semitic, neofascist credentials. Not surprisingly, one of the first decisions of the new rulers was to abolish the law on regional languages, a move that has caused concern not only among Russian-speakers, but also in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. This has coincided with a widespread campaign of intimidation of ethnic Russian population and desecration of monuments celebrating Russia’s and Ukraine’s common historical achievements such as the defeat of Nazism in the Second World War. Russian Orthodox priests have become object of threats. Attempts were made to seize the Orthodox shrines, such as the Kiev Pechersk Laura and the Pochayev Laura.
The situation of the Russian community in the Crimea has become particularly precarious. As soon as rallies erupted to express protest against with the way the Kiev events had unfolded, the Crimeans were accused of separatism and were threatened with force. There has been a lot of speculation regarding movements of troops of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, taken as a precautionary measure in full compliance with the relevant bilateral agreements with Ukraine. During the night of 1 March, unknown armed men sent from Kiev tried to seize the building of the Crimea Interior Ministry. Only decisive actions by self-defence groups allowed to stop that provocation that has left many people injured.
Within this context, it is not surprising that as many as 143 thousand people from Ukraine have applied for asylum in Russia over the past two weeks.
Here’s what the four bolded items mean.
1) The Kremlin has not recognised the new pro-West government in Kiev and is hosting ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in from the southern Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don. Last week Yanukovych told the press that he still considered himself be president and that “radical mobsters” had hijacked the government.
Putin appears to agrees with Yanukovych’s position, specifically the argument to implement the truce signed on February 19, which would have kept Yanukovych in power until elections. (It was rejected by protesters.)
2) New Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk doesn’t look or sound like a bigoted neo-fascist. He did accuse Russia of going to war on Ukraine, saying: “This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country.”
On Monday, Yatseniuk said that Ukraine will not allow Crimea to be split from the country.
“No one will give up Crimea to anyone,” Yatseniuk told reporters.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Russian troops are operating in Crimea and appear to be preparing to stay a while. Russian troops are reportedly urging surrounded Ukrainian soldiers to give up their arms and support the peninsula’s Kremlin-leaning regional authorities.
3) This assertion — that the Kremlin doesn’t know the professional gunman that took over Crimean parliament and the regional government building — provides Moscow with plausible deniability.
At the very least, the pro-Russian gunman have been operating alongside the more than 6,000 Russian troops currently in the region.
“When we said we stand for the Russian language and Russia, they said: don’t be afraid, we’re with you,” a pro-Russian activist who watched the takeover of Crimean parliament told Reuters. “Then they began to storm the building bringing down the doors.”
4) Crimea is the only region in Ukraine that has a majority Russian population. Putin considers Crimea, if not more of Ukraine, part of Russia since it was gifted to Ukraine in 1954.
Putin reportedly told President George W. Bush: “Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, but part of it — a considerable part — was gifted by us!”
The Kremlin is consequently justifying the soft invasion as a means of protecting “the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory.”
Additional confirmation of the Kremlin’s cold calculus came when former Russian President and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Ukraine’s new government had seized power illegally and predicted that “a new revolution” and new bloodshed would upend it.
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