The standoff in Ukraine’s Crimea region is a strange one, where soldiers appear to be standing around amid an air of calm. They wear no military insignia, but there’s little doubt about who they are.
Russian forces “have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula,” a senior U.S. administration official told CNN, with estimates of 6,000 Russian ground and naval forces in the region. A law is being considered in the Russian parliament that would allow Crimea to be annexed, according to the parliament’s website.
Armed men are blocking 10 Ukrainian military and naval bases in Crimea, the newly appointed naval commander of Ukraine, Rear Adm. Serhei Gayduk, told a Ukrainian TV station.
Many ethnic Russians live in Crimea, where support for Russia is strong. Part of Russia’s navy — the Russian Black Sea Fleet — has a base in Crimea’s city of Sevastopol that has been there for 230 years.
In Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, soldiers were circling government buildings and patrolling some streets, but their presence did not feel invasive, CNN correspondent Diana Magnay reported Monday.
It appears that there is a “war of information” in the region “between those who watch Russian state TV and those who are getting their news from the West, none of them listening to the calls from Kiev for unity in this country,” Magnay reported.
It has been, Magnay says, “a very low-key kind of invasion.”
Crimea’s First Vice-Premier Rustam Temirgaliyev also described the situation as quiet, Russian state news agency ITAR Tass reported on Monday.
“Despite hysteria in Ukraine’s central media, the situation on the peninsula remains absolutely calm. No conflicts have flared up in Crimea over the past 24 hours. Crimea has preserved its inter-ethnic peace,” Temirgaliyev said, according to ITAR Tass.
The calmness contrasts with reports that Russia has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea to clear out by 5 a.m. Tuesday or face a “military storm,” according to a report from Russian state-run news agency Interfax, citing a Ukrainian Defense Ministry source.