The Daily Beast reports: On Thursday night, the best assessment from the U.S. intelligence community — and for that matter most experts observing events in Ukraine — was that Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine. Less than 24 hours later, however, there are reports from the ground of Russian troops pushing into the Ukrainian province of Crimea; the newly-installed Crimean prime minister has appealed to Putin to help him secure the country; Putin, in turn, is officially asking for parliament’s permission to send Russian forces into Ukraine. It’s not a full-blown invasion—at least, not yet. But it’s not the picture U.S. analysts were painting just a day before, either.
There was good reason to think Putin wouldn’t do it. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that the 150,000-man Russian military exercises announced by Putin on Wednesday were not preparations for an invasion of Ukraine because no medical units accompanied the troops. And Russian and U.S. diplomats were still working on Iran and Syrian diplomacy. All of this followed a successful Winter Olympic games for Putin’s Russia.
Yet private security contractors, working for the Russian military, seized control of two airports in Crimea on Friday. And Ukrainian border officials said that Russian cargo planes had landed inside the province, and that 10 military helicopters flew into Ukrainian airspace.
U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea.
Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory. [Continue reading…]