Ukraine resistance proves problem for Russia
- 4 March 2014
- From the section Europe
The mood is changing in Crimea.
On Friday the Russians took over, largely unopposed by their Ukrainian counterparts. Perhaps in the confused aftermath of events in Kiev, the Ukrainians were still wondering whose orders they were supposed to follow.
But today there are large groups of Ukrainian soldiers who resist the new authority in Crimea, who refuse to surrender their bases and their ships, and who are slowly starting to create problems for the Russians.
Perhaps a decision has been taken to fight back? So far it has been done peacefully, but each time the troops are pushing the boundaries, hoping to show the world that Ukrainians are being bullied by their Russian masters.
The international community may have given up on Crimea. It is clear the new government in Kiev has not.
Which brings us to the events of today.
'Insults and obscenities'
The Russian guard at the airfield in Sevastopol must have considered the prospect of a confrontation like this. Marching towards them was a column of 300 unarmed Ukrainian soldiers, with their flag proudly displayed.
The Russians fired over their heads but on went the Ukrainians, marching in line, singing their anthem, in defiance.
One volley after the other went over their head and, as they neared the barriers, the rifles of the Russian soldiers were lowered.
This airfield at Sevastopol is home to the MiG fighters of the Ukrainian air force.
For several days the troops loyal to Kiev had been confined to their barracks - but now the Russian and Ukrainian commanders were face to face.
The two sides shouted insults and obscenities as the officers tried to calm the situation.
The Ukrainian officer was demanding joint patrol of his airfield. His Russian counterpart radioed the demand to his superiors. It ended in stalemate.
It is what the international community fears most: a confrontation that spills out of control and leads to war.
The deadline for Ukrainian forces to put down arms came and went this morning. Moscow said there was no such ultimatum. But President Putin giving his first press conference since the crisis began said using force to protect Russians in Ukraine remained a "last resort".
There is no question the noose is now tightening around those who refuse to submit to the new authority in Crimea. And it is getting ever more hostile.
Around the bases the pro-Russian supporters are threatening journalists and the families of the soldiers locked inside. Some wives are bravely sneaking in food parcels and supplies but how long will they be allowed such access?
In the port there has been plenty of activity. The Ukrainian sailors, going nowhere, have now dressed the railings of their ships in mattresses, to stop the Russians fixing grappling hooks.
Last night in anticipation of a pre-emptive move, a crane ship was manoeuvred into the mouth of the harbour.
It belongs to the Russian Black Sea fleet. It is not a complete blockade but the message it sends is abundantly clear - and this morning there were five Russian naval ships patrolling the bay, back and forth they went.
As we filmed, a group of young Russian-speakers came to remonstrate. "This is normal," they said. "We want the Russians. You are telling the world lies. They are not occupiers."
Soviet history and glory
Russia says it is a legitimate cause to defend the rights of people like this who look east rather than west.
And probably they are the majority in Crimea though no doubt there are significant minorities, such as the Tatar community, who do not want to be annexed, who do not want to be part of the Russian Federation.
At the same time the Kremlin, of course, aims to defend its strategic interests.
Would the Americans be any different? It is their access to the Black Sea, not to mention a land synonymous with Soviet history and glory.
On the east coast of the peninsula, in Kerch, the Russians are now strengthening their forces. The ferry terminal has been taken. Perhaps more hardware will be moved across the straits.
Yesterday the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, said his government would build a bridge from Russia to Kerch. It reinforces the Kremlin's desire to be ever attached to Crimea.