In recent days, the Russian Federation has sent troops and military vehicles from its Crimean bases out of the base areas, with the evident purpose of occupying the Crimean Republic. Up to this point, the troops have been wearing uniforms without national insignia -- that is, their uniforms did not identify them has Russian troops.
These troops have surround and/or occupied some government buildings in Crimea's capital, Simferopol. They are also patrolling two Crimean airports, Simferopol (SIP) and Sevastopol Belbek (UKS). Reportedly, civil flights have ceased operating to or from these airports.
It appears that Russian troops are fanning out to numerous other Crimean locations.
Today, Russian President Putin asked Russia's Parliament (Duma) to approve legislation authorizing the sending of Russian military forces into Ukraine. The Duma enacted this legislation by unanimous vote. Note well that the wording of the new law does not specify Crimea, or any other particular part of Ukraine, but applies to the country's entire territory.
Legislators in the Duma have also proposed legislation that would pave the way for the Russian Federation to annex new territory.
Crimea (Krim, Êðèì or Êðûì) is a large peninsula (about 26,000 square km) extending southward from the main body of Ukraine's territory into the Black Sea. It connects to the main body by a slender isthmus, less than 10 km across at its narrowest point. Crimea is farther south than almost all Ukrainian territory, excepting mainly that part of the Odessa Oblast that extends south of Moldova.
Generally, Ukraine's territory is organized into geographic/political divisions called oblasts, being somewhat like provinces (or even counties). Krim is unique in having the status of Autonomous Republic within Ukraine, with its own parliament.
Historically, Krim was not part of Ukraine before modern times. Its territory was taken by the Russian Empire in the 1850s. In 1954, the Soviet Union transferred Krim from the Russian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) to the Ukrainian SSR.
More than half of Krim's population identify as ethnic Russians, and nearly a quarter as ethnic Ukrainians. About one eighth of the population is Tatar (a Turkic people with their own language and culture, who mostly practice Islam).
Crimea has long been a stronghold of Russia's Black Sea Fleet (Chyornomorski Flot). When Ukraine became independent, Russia and Ukraine negotiated a leasing arrangement in order for bases of the Fleet to continue on Ukrainian territory until 2017. One of the most controversial actions taken by Ukraine's now-deposed President Yanukovich was to renew this lease until 2047, not long after Ukraine's previous President Yushchenko had declared that the fleet must vacate in 2017.
At least in part because of Krim's history, its Russian-speaking population probably identifies with Russia more strongly than any other large group in Ukraine.
Some of us have been following recent events in Ukraine with great interest, and concern. For the most part, these events haven't had much practical effect on the pursuit of international romantic relationships ... but perhaps that is changing now. Here are some thoughts, for your consideration. These are only my personal perspectives.
AS OF TODAY (1 MARCH 2014)
I recommend that all foreigners avoid travel to Crimea until the situation there has stabilized. Going into a zone where military occupation is in progress is sure to be stressful, and could include risks of:
* being turned back at a frontier or checkpoint
* substantial extra expenses
* detention or imprisonment
* exposure to physical violence (possibly of great intensity).
Risks are likely to be greater for citizens of the US or EU.
Further, I recommend that foreigners exercise considerable caution in planning any travel to Ukraine. In the eastern regions, there is a possibility of violent unrest, military action, and strong anti-western sentiment.
Physically, the western parts of Ukraine (especially Lviv and Transcarpathia) should remain quite safe, but if events spiral out of control, there might be disruptions to currency, banking, and transportation with practical implications for travel. For example, in case your flight back home operates from Kyiv (KBP/IEV) and air travel is suspended, it might be prudent for you to have a Plan B, such as exiting Ukraine by rail via Poland. Further, your hotel or apartment could suddenly lose all heat and hot water.
THE FUTURE (SPECULATIVE!)
1. If Russia Annexes Crimea
This could especially affect men pursing relationships with women who live there (I think we have one or two such men currently participating in this forum). In this event, you would probably need a Russian Federation visa in order to visit Crimea, if you could gain entry at all. Presumably, it would continue to be straightforward for a woman from Crimea to travel to other Ukrainian territory, if no fighting is in progress, so meetings might take place in other towns of Ukraine.
I hate even writing that word. However, if Russia annexes Crimea, the risk of war between Russia and Ukraine is substantial. If Russia attempts to annex other Ukrainian territories, for example parts or all of the Don Basin, then I believe war is certain. We might think it futile for Ukraine to resist: its military is small and poorly funded, compared to Russa's vast military. However, according to western military analysts, Russia's 2008 war against Georgia's tiny military showed Russia's armed forces to be shockingly ill prepared to sustain combat: they of course won, but it took near-maximum effort on the part of an army that, on paper, should have been able to defeat Georgia with ease. Possibly Russia has resolved these problems in the intervening years, but if not fighting against Ukraine would be tougher than we might expect.
If it comes to war, Ukraine (as has been shown in recent days) has passionate citizens who are willing to die for their country, who would be up against Russian soldiers who are mostly conscripts wanting to finish their mandatory service and return to civilian life -- and many of whom would be horrified to participate in the slaughter of fellow Slavs.
The prospects are so ugly and tragic ... I must pray that cooler heads will prevail.
In the event of war, travel in Ukraine would likely become quite difficult and hazardous. If Russia deploys its air force in Ukraine's skies, all civil air flights might be suspended in Ukraine. Ukraine's currency, the Hryvnia, might collapse so badly that it could no longer be used for ordinary transactions. Further, the Russian ruble, already declining in recent weeks, would likely fall even further.
In the event of war, if the US and/or EU makes any strong responses, such as economic or criminal sanctions against Russia and its leaders, or even military deployments, Russia might react with a travel ban against citizens of the sanctioning countries. That is, it might become impossible for some of us to travel to Russia.
Russia is also likely to respond by shutting off its natural gas flows to western Ukraine and the rest of Europe, which would cause extreme hardship, especially until spring weather begins.
3. Russia as a Pariah State
Though I could imagine international acceptance of Russia's taking Crimea (though with bitterness and sorrow), if Russia were to annex more territory than that, the West would take it very hard. The West won't stop this splitting of Ukraine, mind you -- the costs would be too heavy.
But if Ukraine is split in halves (more or less), then the US and Europe will regard Russia as an international pirate comparable to Sadam Hussein's Iraq, or Iran under the ayatullahs. It wouldn't be the same as the Cold War, but it would have numerous parallels. And, as usually happens, very hard lines would be drawn after some serious damage has been done. I believe that Western leaders would know that from that point forward, they must take an uncompromising stance against Russia.
Russia's other neighbors, including Belarus and Kazakhstan with their substantial economies, would be horrified, and eager to seek security assistance from the West.
If it came to this, the consequences would be vast, and beyond my calculation. I think it likely that in the net, Russia's already mediocre economic picture could degrade very seriously. Travel for Westerners to Russia or other former Soviet countries could become quite different from what is possible today, with the possibility of travel bans making meetings very difficult, at least for some time.
The last sentence, cut off because my post was too long:
A special hardship could arise for international families that have already been formed, if travel bans or other barriers make it difficult or impossible to visit relatives still living in the home countries.
People here are making the usual mistake of putting all those "Ruskies" in the same box. Who says or how do people know that ALL people of Russian origin in Crimea want to be part of Russia? If that were the case, why have they not tried to have Crimea break away from Ukraine and join Russia before?
Another thing, Russians are really Ukrainian in origin, a LOT of Ukrainians and Russians have relatives in both countries. They are really the same in cultural terms with some differences. This is not the same as Russians against Georgians and Russians against Chechnyans who are different cultures. The Ukrainians and Russians will be a lot less inclined to let their leaders wage wage on each other. But it could happen with Putin.
"If judged by the numbers, Ukraine's military loses war with Russia
If a full-fledged war erupts, Ukraine's military would be dwarfed by its neighbor to the north.
In 2012, Russian active armed forces numbered 845,000 versus 130,000 for Ukraine, according to Europa World, an online reference source.
And Russia's defense budget -- $78 billion in 2012 -- dwarfs that of Ukraine -- $1.6 billion in 2012, according to Jane's Defence Weekly.
An article published in June 2011 cited a military expert's prediction that Ukraine would find itself in a "defensive vacuum" for a decade if investment were to remain unchanged.
Valentin Badrak, a director of the Ukrainian Centre of Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS), was quoted in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper -- cited by Jane's -- as saying that programs for developing the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) were "at a zero level."
The government, pointing to a 2010 study, said there was no need for a big army because Ukraine's primary threats came not from the outside but from internal political destabilization.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Ukraine has 15.7 million males and females ages 16-49 fit for military service.
Compare that to 45.6 million Russians of similar age who are fit for military service.
Those figures may have been on the mind of Ukraine's acting defense minister, Ihor Tenyuh, on Sunday. That's when he told a closed session of parliament that Ukraine does not have the military force to resist Russia, according to two parliamentary members present at the meeting.
He called for diplomacy to resolve the crisis with Russia, they said.
Journalist Victoria Butenko in Kiev contributed to this report."
I haven't seen anyone say that all ethnic Russians (in Crimea or anywhere else -- or even in Russia!) are pro-annexation. As you rightly say, there are lots of family connections, and histories of people relocating, between Russia and Ukraine.
The story as I understand it, is that of all of the regions of eastern Ukraine, Crimea is considered the one where pro-Russian and pro-annexation sentiment is the strongest. Reasons for this include:
* Crimea was part of non-Ukrainian Russia for generations
* many have personal memories of when Crimea was still Russian territory
* Crimea has a strong identification with the Black Sea Fleet of Russia's navy
* Crimea has more actual Russian citizens than other parts of Ukraine (for example, it is not unusual for officers of the Black Sea Fleet to stay in Crimea when they retire -- it's a lot more pleasant than their home towns!)
One of the problems in Ukraine during recent weeks is that the will of the people is not properly represented. For example, the present government was effectively chosen by a some tens of thousands of protesters on the Maidan, most of whom are from Kyiv. I'm sure many Ukrainians agree with them, but it wasn't anything like a real democracy.
Similarly, although thousands are now demonstrating in Crimea to return to Russia, that isn't a proper vote, or even opinion polling! I would not assume that a majority of Crimeans want Russian annexation. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a great many ethnic Russians in Crimea would prefer to continue as part of Ukraine.
The legitimacy of Yanucovich's regime was lost when he put upon people the snipers and Ukraine's Parliament took adverse action against him. He knew at that point his position was untenable and many of his immediate personnel resigned. That fact is the reason that this invasion has taken place. It is an unmitigated power grab from an external power. To argue less is in fact, to deny that the Soviet Union has dissolved. The only persons killed to this date were those at the Maidan, which ever side you were on.
“Russia's Putin orders troops in military exercise back to base
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops that took part in military exercises in central and western Russia to return to base after completing their training, Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin spokesman as saying on Tuesday.
Moscow had denied that the exercises, which began last week, had anything to do with events in Ukraine, where Putin has said he has the right to deploy troops to protect Russian compatriots.
The exercises ended on schedule.
The Russian leader watched the final day of the exercises on Monday, showing no sign of concern at warnings from western powers that Russia could face sanctions for taking control of Ukraine's southern Crimea region.
"The supreme commander of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, gave the order for the troops and units, taking part in the military exercises, to return to their bases," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.
Peskov said the exercises had been a success.”