Ukraine Mobilizes For War, Calls Up Reserves

Photo: Associated Press

Photo: Associated Press

 

 

 

 

Ukraine  mobilized for war on Sunday and Washington threatened to isolate  Russia economically, after President Vladimir Putin declared he  had the right to invade his neighbor in Moscow’s biggest  confrontation with the West since the Cold War.

“This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of  war to my country,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk  said in English. Yatsenuik heads a pro-Western government that  took power when the country’s Russia-backed president, Viktor  Yanukovich, was ousted last week.

Putin secured permission from his parliament on Saturday to  use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine and  told U.S. President Barack Obama he had the right to defend  Russian interests and nationals, spurning Western pleas not to  intervene.

Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea, an  isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base.

On Sunday they surrounded several small Ukrainian military  outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some  refused, leading to standoffs, although no shots were fired.

With Russian forces in control of majority ethnic Russian  Crimea, the focus is shifting to eastern swathes of Ukraine,  where most ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian as a native language.

Those areas saw more demonstrations on Sunday after violent  protests on Saturday, and for a second day pro-Moscow activists  hoisted flags at government buildings and called for Russia to  defend them.

Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the  land border, but so far they have not crossed. Kiev said Russia  had sent hundreds of its citizens across the border to stage the  protests.

Ukraine’s security council ordered the general staff to  immediately put all armed forces on highest alert. However,  Kiev’s small and under-equipped military is seen as no match for  Russia’s superpower might.

The Defense Ministry was ordered to stage a call-up of  reserves, meaning theoretically all men up to 40 in a country  with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle  to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia for what  he called an “incredible act of aggression” and brandished the  threat of economic sanctions.

“You don’t just, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century  fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up  pretext,” Kerry told CBS program Face the Nation.

Kerry said Moscow still had a “right set of choices” to  defuse the crisis. Otherwise, G8 countries and other nations  were prepared to “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia”.

“They are prepared to isolate Russia economically. The trouble is already going down. Russia has major economic  challenges,” he said. He mentioned visa bans, asset freezes and  trade isolation as possible steps.

Analysts said U.S. economic sanctions would likely have  little impact on Russia unless they were accompanied by strong  measures by major European nations, which have deeper trade ties  with Moscow and are dependent on Russian gas.

A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment after Kerry’s  remarks.

Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations said Kiev would ask  for international military support if Russia expanded its  military action in his country.

KIEV PROTESTS CONTINUE

At Kiev’s Independence Square, where anti-Yanukovich  protesters had camped out for months, thousands demonstrated  against Russian military action. Speakers delivered rousing  orations and placards read: “Putin, hands off Ukraine!”

“If there is a need to protect the nation, we will go and  defend the nation,” said Oleh, an advertising executive cooking  over an open fire at the square where he has been camped for  three months. “If Putin wants to take Ukraine for himself, he  will fail. We want to live freely and we will live freely.”

The new government announced it had fired the head of the  navy and launched a treason case against him for surrendering  Ukraine’s naval headquarters to Russian forces in the Crimean  port of Sevastopol, where Moscow has a major naval  base.

REACTION FROM THE WEST

Obama spoke to Putin for 90 minutes by telephone on Saturday  after the Russian leader declared he had the right to intervene  and quickly secured unanimous approval from his parliament.

The Kremlin said Putin told Obama Russian speakers were  under threat from Ukraine’s new leaders, who took over after  Yanukovich fled huge protests against his repression and  rejection of a trade deal with the European Union.

Putin reiterated this stance in a telephone call with German  Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, the Kremlin said, adding  that he and Merkel agreed that Russia and Germany would continue  consultations to seek the “normalization” of the situation.

Ukraine, which says it has no intention of threatening  Russian speakers, has appealed for help to NATO, and directly to  Britain and the United States, as co-signatories with Moscow to  a 1994 accord guaranteeing Ukraine’s security.

After an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels,  the alliance called on Russia to bring its forces back to bases  and refrain from interfering in Ukraine.

But despite expressing “grave concern”, NATO didn’t agree  any significant measures to apply pressure to Russia, with the  West struggling to come up with a forthright response that does  not risk pushing the region closer to military conflict.

“We urge both parties to immediately seek a peaceful  solution through bilateral dialogue, with international  facilitation … and through the dispatch of international  observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security  Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in  Europe,” NATO said in a statement.

Washington on Saturday proposed sending monitors to Ukraine  under the U.N. or OSCE flags. The United States has won  tentative support from many members of the OSCE, Europe’s main  human rights and democracy watchdog, for such a mission, its  envoy to the group said on Sunday.

So far, the Western response has been largely symbolic.  Obama and others suspended preparations for a G8 summit in  Sochi, where Putin has just finished staging his $50 billion  winter Olympic games. Some countries recalled ambassadors.     Britain said its ministers would stay away from the Paralympics  due next in Sochi.

But Germany’s Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier,   urging world leaders on Sunday to work to calm the crisis,  defended Russia’s membership of the G8, saying it enabled the  West to talk directly with Moscow.

Ukraine’s military is ill-matched against its neighbor.  Britain’s International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates  Kiev has fewer than 130,000 troops under arms, with planes  barely ready to fly and few spare parts for a single submarine.

Russia, by contrast, has spent billions under Putin to  upgrade and modernize the capabilities of forces that were  dilapidated after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Moscow’s  special units are now seen as equals of the best in the world.

RUSSIANS IN CRIMEA

In Crimea, Ukraine’s tiny contingent made no attempt to  oppose the Russians, who bore no insignia on their uniforms but  drove vehicles with Russian plates and seized government  buildings, airports and other locations in the past three days.

Kiev said its troops were encircled in at least three  places. It pulled its coast guard vessels out of Crimean ports.  Ukraine said its naval fleet’s 10 ships were still in Sevastopol  and remained loyal to Kiev.

Scores of Russian troops with no insignia were camped  outside a base of Ukrainian troops at Perevalnoye, on a road  from Crimea’s capital Simferopol towards the coast.

A representative of the base commander said troops on both  sides had reached agreement so no blood would be shed.

“We are ready to protect the grounds and our military  equipment,” Valery Boiko told Reuters television. “We hope for a  compromise to be reached, a decision, and as the commander has  said, there will be no war.”

Igor Mamchev, a Ukrainian navy colonel at another small base  outside Simferopol, told Ukraine’s Channel 5 TV that a truckload  of Russian troops had arrived at his checkpoint and told his  forces to lay down their arms.

“I replied that, as I am a member of the armed forces of Ukraine, under orders of the Ukrainian navy, there could be no discussion of disarmament. In case of any attempt to enter the military base, we will use all means, up to lethal force.”

A unit of Ukrainian marines was also holed up in a base in  the Crimean port of Feodosia, where they refused to disarm.

Elsewhere on the occupied peninsula, the Russian troops  assumed a lower profile on Sunday after the pro-Moscow Crimean  leader said overnight that the situation was now “normalized”.

Putin’s justification citing the need to protect Russian  citizens was the same as he used to launch a 2008 invasion of  Georgia, where Russian forces seized two breakaway regions.

In Russia, state-controlled media portray Yanukovich’s  removal as a coup by dangerous extremists funded by the West and  there has been little sign of dissent with that line.

PROTESTS IN EAST

Pro-Moscow demonstrators flew Russian flags on Saturday and  Sunday at government buildings in cities including Kharkiv,  Donetsk, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk. In places they clashed with  anti-Russian protesters and guards defending the buildings.

Ukrainian parliamentarian Hrygory Nemyriya, a spokesman to  foreign journalists for the new authorities, said the pro-Moscow  marchers were sent from Russia.

The worst violence took place in Kharkiv, where scores of  people were hurt on Saturday when thousands of pro-Russian  activists, some brandishing axe handles and chains, stormed the  regional government and fought pitched battles with a smaller  number of supporters of Ukraine’s new authorities.

In Donetsk, Yanukovich’s home city, the local government  building was flying the Russian flag for the second day on  Sunday. The local authorities have called for a referendum on  the region’s status, a move Kiev says is illegal. A pro-Russian  “self-defense” unit held a second day of protest, attracting  about 1,000 demonstrators carrying Russian flags.

Source: Reuters and New Africa Business News

About the Author
Moses M'Bowe, is the Chief International Correspondent, For New Africa Business News And New Africa Daily News.

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