Natalia Antelava writes: Andrei Ivaninchenko, a captain in the Ukrainian Army, didn’t have time to listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday afternoon. Ivaninchenko was busy coördinating talks between his commanders and senior Russian officers, checking on his troops, and taking an inventory of his food and water supplies.
By the time that Putin broke his silence over the movement of Russian troops into Crimea, the blockade of Ivaninchenko’s base on the outskirts of Sebastopol had entered its fourth day. But if he had taken the time to listen to Putin, he would have learned that the Russian soldiers pointing guns at him were merely figments of his imagination.
In his first press conference since the crisis began, Putin announced that no Russian troops — apart from those already stationed at the Russian Navy base in Sebastopol — were present anywhere in Crimea. When he was asked about the hundreds of well-armed soldiers in unmarked Russian uniforms who have been positioned outside of military sites and administrative buildings across the peninsula, Putin called them “self-organized local forces of volunteers.” As to their uniforms, Putin added that they could have been purchased at any store.
“If that’s the case,” Ivaninchenko said, looking straight at the armed men who were standing on the other side of an iron gate from us, “these are just bandits or irregular militiamen, and we should have no qualms about going out and shooting them.” But several Ukrainian Army officers told me that they are under strict orders from their own commanders to avoid any confrontation. “It will only take one shot,” Ivaninchenko told me, “and the whole of Crimea will be set on fire.” [Continue reading…]