Russia has invaded Ukrainian territory–the Crimea, formerly an autonomous region that has been the flashpoint for war for centuries. The Crimea has a Russian majority and a major Russian naval base at Sevastapol–Russia’s prize warm water port–so the incursion of troops there is not surprising. But now Russia’s target seems to be Ukraine proper, and the new pro-Western government is mobilizing its military and claiming that Russia has, in effect, declared war.
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 Defence 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.