So-called security cameras recorded commandos slipping into the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol unopposed, last Thursday. This is the autonomous Crimean region’s capital. No markings on the battle dress of the heavily armed men permit their identification. Ukrainian authorities, however, said they were under Moscow’s orders.
At the same time, Kyiv accused the Russian fleet in the Black Sea of menacing behaviour.
The Kremlin denied that its troops had moved outside their naval base in Sevastopol. But the letters ‘R-U-S’ were visible on some of roughly 20 vehicles’ registration plates in video taken on Friday outside Simferopol. The convoy was heading for the Ukrainian naval base of Feodosiya.
Ukraine has 15,000 of its own men in military uniform in the Crimean peninsula, while Russia has 20,000 marines, based in Sevastopol, under the terms of a standing bilateral agreement still in application.
On Friday, Kyiv accused Moscow of occupation and armed invasion, after also-unidentified men seized control of the airport of Belbek, near Sevastopol, and of the international airport serving Simferopol.
Each of these steps places Crimea further from Kyiv, which appears powerless as Ukrainian bases are encircled by forces working with regional, pro-Russian authorities.
Ukrainian soldiers were thus effectively confined to barracks in Sevastopol, Balaclava, Perevolnoye, Feodosiya, and Kerch. That gave Russia complete de facto operational control there. The two main land routes connecting Crimea with the rest of Ukraine, at Armyansk and Chanhor, are filtered by road blocks.
Not only has Russia many times more soldiers that it could send to impose its will in Ukraine, but also enormous technical superiority, including helicopters and war planes.
Another setback for Kyiv came at the weekend, when the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian navy, Denis Berezovsky, announced his allegiance to the pro-Russian regional authorities.
On the chequer board of Crimea, Ukraine’s army seems caught on the back foot.