Ukraine Crisis: Crimea in the Crosshairs

March 1, 2014

Alessandro Bruno

Helicopter flying over Ukraine


What is unfolding between Ukraine and Russia on the Crimean Peninsula? The answer is ostensibly simple: Russia is defending its interests at the behest of the mostly ethnic Russian population in Crimea. And while there are reports of an imminent Russian invasion, the fact is that Russia already has troops on the ground in Crimea, given that they have leased a major military base in Sevastopol.

The port of Sevastopol serves as the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which oversees maritime operations throughout the Mediterranean. The base is leased through 2042, and the Russian fleet stationed there consists of 380 ships, 170 aircraft, and 25,000 troops. Crimea and Sevastopol in Ukraine represent a powerful means to exert pressure against Russia considering the fact that Moscow views the region as an indispensable strategic asset. In view of the street protests that have brought Ukrainian nationalists into power (not necessarily many ‘democrats’ here), and fearing a similar action on the part of the same political party in Crimea, Russia’s President Putin ordered a general mobilization of the western military region under the guise of ‘emergency exercises’ along with two districts of the central military region. This move masked a de facto preparation for some 2,000 troops to enter Crimea along with a squadron of helicopters. These steps give Russia a rapid response capability in the event that some battalions of the Ukrainian armed forces attempt to reach Crimea – they are also deploying air defense systems already in place at the base.

The arrival and deployment (even partial) of Russian troops has not been followed by shoot-outs with police departments in Crimea, nor has the new government in Kiev issued any orders to its armed forces, which continue to maintain a ‘passive’ attitude. Russia now has effective control of Simferopol, the naval base of Sevastopol, and Balaklava – every airport on the Crimean peninsula. Russian military units also surround regional support facilities for the Ukrainian armed forces, as well as an important air defense base north of Sevastopol.


How will the situation evolve?

Russian troops will continue to flow into Crimea if the Russian Duma – a bit of a rubber stamp – approves Putin’s request (it has already passed a resolution urging the government to consider all options to ensure the safety and stability of the Crimea). Approval would mean Russian helicopters could be deployed in greater numbers in order to further discourage a response from the Ukrainian army – which remains highly unlikely. In fact, even if Russia made a complete bid to take over Crimea, there is little chance of a Ukrainian military response. Effectively, the Crimean peninsula is already being controlled by the Russian Federation and Putin’s recent moves are merely designed to protect or consolidate that control. Russia’s armed forces can be deployed so quickly and in such numbers that it will be impossible for the Ukrainian army to oppose.

Tensions will definitely rise over the announced referendum on Crimean independence, scheduled for 30 March. This suggests that Russian troops will remain on high alert protecting the pro-Russian Crimean government until that time and beyond. In the unlikely event of a Ukrainian response, the much better equipped Russian troops would extend their reach and gain control of eastern Ukraine’s most important industrial and mining districts, replicating in a sense, though on a smaller scale, what happened in Georgia in 2008. For now we can say with relative certainty that the Russian Federation after sixty years – when a possibly drunken Khrushchev ‘donated’ it to Ukraine – has taken full control of the Crimean peninsula, and it will do whatever is necessary to keep it.

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  • Bambo

    If Ukrainian right-wing nationalists really are in the ascent in Kiev, wouldn’t that mean it’s highly likely that they will respond militarily in a consequences-be-damned kind of way? I thought that’s what nationalists were all about.

  • Tarmo

    Mr Bruno is overestimating russian military capabilities and efficiency in large deal. Nor does that "analyst" mention for one single time that this kind of act is a pure invasion and de facto occupation.

    That was the last time for me to visit that page.

  • Bambo

    @Tarmo: an analyst shouldn’t use subjective, emotionally-charged language in straightforward analysis. Scolding Russia for its invasion should be left to the editorial pages.

  • Shaytoon-e-mamooli

    No question but that the Russians are acting in accordance with their national interests. An image of their longer-range objectives is unclear. Clarity must await any decision on moves in the direction of Eastern Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics, and Belarus. One might imagine that NATO allies Warsaw and Bucharest are reexamining their options.

  • Neutral

    If the Crimea declares independence, the rest of Ukraine is lost forever for Russia and it includes the eastern part of the country. In case of concerted effort from the Kremlin, we should expect similar moves in other parts of Ukraine. However, Putin would prefer to have Ukraine as a whole and neutral if not pro-Russian. Even if he gets the Eastern part of the country (and it is a question if he can) it would be a defeat and retreat.

  • Lots of "hrumphing" and posturing by the West, with absolutely zero plans for responding to Putin.

    Just this morning, it was reported that "Washington is scrambling to get a grasp of events." Really? Kiev was on fire a month ago, while Putin paraded himself around Sochi patting his Olympians on their heads, and Washington fawning over his great international success. All the while, Putin’ strategy was being hatched. And Washington is just now "scrambling?"

    So, what’s Putin’s "Checkmate" move now? Annex the Crimean Peninsula!

    What will the "stunned" and "outraged" John Kerry do? Pretty much the same thing he and Obama did when the Russians out-maneuvered Washington on the Syrian chemical weapons fiasco. Huff and puff, wag a few fingers in Moscow’s general direction, then get back to inflating the success of Obamacare, and maybe play a little golf.

  • J Zlotnic

    Have said it once and will say it again. Once KGB, always KGB…

    Putin is nothing but a f****ng thug

  • Rob

    Out of date with developments on the ground, plus I almost certain Russia does not have anywhere closer to "380 ships" stationed at their base at Sevastopol. That number would be their entire naval fleet, rather than the Black Sea Fleet. And don’t forget the history of forced exile of the indigenous populations of Crimea by Stalin and the take over by Russian nationals. So just because the majority of the population now is ethnic Russian does not mean this is and always has been Russian territory. This is simply a power struggle for domain and transport of oil and natural gas over the coming decades. Besides, those backing the "winner" of this struggle for power must come up with about 30 billion dollars to bail out the government of Ukraine, immediately, with lots more currency needed in the very near future…..

  • Maddog

    The economic "punishment," being exacted on Russia will be something that Putin may not be able to deal with. Their GDP has been falling and the expenditure on Putin’s Olympic "Circus," are having adverse effects. If the Ukrainians show any military oppossion, the combined political and economic fallout could prove to be a major dilemma.

  • marcus

    In is not an invasion when someone asks for help. Its called military support. The Eu does so much trade with russia, the eu would colapse and probaly freeze when the gas gets turned off. The west is a bunch of hoodlems whose time as come to vacate this planet

  • Mark

    Russians are in Crimea "at the behest" of Russian population? Are you kidding me?
    Hm, maybe you are writing at the behest of the Russian government?
    You, guys at the Geopolitical Monitor, are not serious thinkers and commentators. This is my first and last comment on this page.


    Since Kruschev gave Crimea to the Ukraine, Ukraine should publicly make a show of returning Crimea to Russia. Since Rusia already has their Black Sea fleet there, tat is an excellen reason that the Russians are protecting it and keeping it within their fold.The only ones in Crimea who would, mostb likely, be unhappy with such a situation, would be the native Tartars, but they would still be treated decently by the Russians. There has been no violence commited against any of the Russians or the Russian speaking Ukrainians and there most likely wouldn’t be, so Putins’ excuse for invading Ukraine would be shown to be moot. I n the meantime, there would be better relations for Ukraine with both Russia and Europe and during that time, Ukraine can build up and strengthen its’ own military.

  • Ronald Smith

    This might be a dumb question, but thugs throwing rocks and fire, was shot while attacking police and military personnel, the President was chased out, rebels took over the government, the west immediately recognized them, EU is immediately giving them money, Russia is sending in troops to protect there interest, not a shot has been fired, and there has been no election? Who is in the wrong, Russia or the west? Seems to me that there should be an election in the democratic country of Ukraine before they are recognized. Why would we be considering WWIII?

  • Continent of Cards

    Currently, one of the hottest TV show on American internet,is Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’. In its 26 shows of two seasons, everyone in the show is trying to move up their ‘Food-Chain’, trade or betray through ‘Transactional Moves’; There is No Justice, No Mercy, but Lots of Twist of Arms, Lots of Invisible Blood; and a few real Bloodsheds.

    If we change the internet website, and look at this Ukraine ‘Card Game’, sadly to say, Ukraine and its people are the sole losers, Russia got hurt, Europe lost its peace, and the U.S., might be the sole winner, with the least cost, to put both Russia and Europe in jeopardy.

    Therefore, Putin is not that ‘smart’, and Obama is not ‘stupid’ at all.

    Keep in tune, for the next episode at Continental Scale.

  • bealman

    What sincere interest does Obama have in Ukraine? None; Ukraine has suffered a breakdown in the economy for years- I was there. Where was the US then? Now he wants to stand and crow, even make threats against Russia- it is hard to hide stupid and ignorance. All he wants is to put another dictator in place to further the one world government. Watch now, he will manipulate every avenue to accomplish hi goal. Russia may be the only sincere action taken for the Russian and Ukrainian people- it will not be the UN, NATO and certainly NOT the US!! I have family in Ukraine, Married to a Russian- some of the best people on this planet!!

  • Robin Preston

    Strikes me that Russia is simply defending its strategic interests in an area which has always been fundamentally "Russian" and only became part of Ukraine during a 1950’s Khrushchev drinking bout.
    With its overwhelming debt and a new republic to administer, Ukraine (and the west) would be better advised to let the Russians return to the status quo. There are more important matters than this in the world.

  • larrie veith

    I subscribed to this page thinking it was populated by real analysis and intelligent commenters. NOT! Articles without supporting documentation for false (FACTS) such as Russia’s number of ships in Sevastopol. Been there! And many of their ships in the North Bay port are rusting and unmaintained, subs that haven’t been out of port for a year or more, crews that don’t go anywhere near their ship for duty for weeks while they party in town. The standing support troops were rolled out of there and replaced with real ones prior to this operation. Putin’s generals must have known they were drunken slackers. If you guys want to write opinion pieces, knock yourselves out with a blog or something but don’t try to pass this stuff off as substantial analysis, geopolitical or otherwise! From 1919 to Stalin’s slaughter and deportation of the Crimean Tatars who had lived in peace with Ukrainians for centuries, the Tatar population of Crimea went from 130,000 to zero; replaced by surprise surprise! Russians! Since the collapse of Imperialist Soviet State, 280,000 have fled from Russia to return to live in peace with Ukrainians in their native land. Putin is recreating their worst nightmare; living under the oppression and prejudice of another Russian dictator!

  • David E

    I keep thinking it is a little absurd that we are lecturing Putin about "invading" Crimea … recent history is of US aggression in Iraq directly, and indirectly(or by proxy) in Libya, Syria, and several other places in and around the middle east/Africa. It seems to me that we have been doing whatever the frank we want and now Russia defends its strategic interests on its own doorstep and we get all upset about it. Not to mention we have been funding the unret there!

  • Wolf

    I was wondering when the USA and NATO forces attacked Serbia under the pretence of defending UCK terorists and liberating the present majority population which is of muslim religion it was ok to piece Serbia out. But now if for example Russian in Crimere would like they independance it would be out of the question. EU lead by Germany and together with USA are the biggest breaches of human rights in the world with they double standards, they cant seize teritories thru war since they will lose proven in WWI and WWII, which wasnt won by eu countries but by the sacrifice of Russian people. And behold how many neonazies are in Euromaidan such a shame, pls check the growth of far right wing parties in the land of democracy called EU. Hvae of the eu countries are in effect run by right wing extremists.

  • from russia

    Guys, don’t dramatize the situation. Russians simply maintain order on their land. Actually peacekeepers support the status quo. Look at: Everything is calm, it is not something that was in Kiev 2 months ago. Russians are doing the same thing that would have made the French, British, Germans or Americans. Times are changing, the USSR would have brought troops, appointed komissar and arrested all those who disagree. Do you not see the difference?

    Ukrainian Chess
    Posted on March 4, 2014 by Simon Johnson | 19 Comments
    By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson
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