Daily Israel Report

Ukraine Steps Up Defense After Russia Moves to Annex Crimea

Kiev digs trenches, allots billions to defense fund, recruits volunteers as Russia moves to annex Crimea.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/18/2014, 12:16 PM

Heading for a showdown? Russian soldiers in Crimea
Heading for a showdown? Russian soldiers in Crimea
Reuters

The Ukrainian government continues to step up its defenses against a possible military invasion from Russia, the Kyiv Post reports Tuesday, after Moscow moved to annex the Crimean peninsula. 

Kiev's interim Finance Minister, Verkhovna Rada, allotted a whopping 6.88 billion Hryvianas (6.9 billion US dollars, approximately) to the defense fund Tuesday morning, after acting prime minister Artseniy Yatensyuk warned that armed military conflict with Russia was still a possibility. 

And Yatsenyuk's warning was not just all talk; the Telegraph reported Monday that tanks, bearing Ukrainian markings, had been lining up near the Donbas basin (south of Donetsk) all day after the referendum vote, on what is now Ukraine's border with Russia and Crimea. Dramatic photos showed men digging trenches as local activists begged not to begin a conflict in the region. 

"Russians and Ukrainians don't want to fight each other," said Ivan Inozemev, a prison warder, to the news agency. "We would be happy to be part of Russia if that's what happens."

Earlier Monday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in a press conference recorded by UPI that Ukrainian troops will remain in the Crimean peninsula through March 21, as per a truce with Russia. 

"No one will leave Crimea, that's for sure," Tenyukh told reporters. "The situation regarding the blockade of our military bases has been normalized and I think it will remain like that until the March 21, as has been agreed in the truce."

Meanwhile, according to Tenyukh, at least 21,000 Russian troops are now in Crimea, in a de facto military invasion of the peninsula which has culminated with the bid to annex the region as part of Russia.

"We cannot rule out that in the northern, northeastern, and southern areas near the Ukrainian border operative tactical units of Russian troops are being created," Tenyukh said in the briefing. "Russian provocations keep happening in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and they are aimed at creating the environment for a repetition of the Crimean scenario on the mentioned territories."

Early Tuesday afternoon Russian president Vladimir Putin submitted his bill to annex Crimea for approval in the Russian parliament. The series of events leading to the bid has caused alarm as Western powers and media pundits discuss the possibility of another cold war - and as Putin continues to ignore sanctions from the US and European Union (EU). 

The development is the latest in a series of episodes in the recent conflict between Ukraine and its former rulers in the Kremlin since early December, when protests began in Independence Square against the government's refusal to become a full member of the EU and to back closer relations with Moscow instead.