A dawn deadline came and went on the Crimea for Ukrainian forces to defect or surrender to Russia. No shots were reported, and the air was tense and filled with rumor (link in Russian, translation here). But there was no doubt that Russia now regards Crimea—Ukrainian territory since 1954—as its own.
On Monday, Russian soldiers visited Ukrainian bases in Crimea and tried the soft touch, including offers of a job in the Russian armed forces for Ukrainian forces who defected. But if they refused, they were told to leave within 24 hours—or else. As the evening wore on, Ukrainian soldiers threw wood on fires and said they would hold their ground.
Given Russia’s two-decade history of breaking off pieces of former Soviet republics, chances seem high of one of two coming events: a Ukrainian military surrender in Crimea, or a fulfillment of the ultimatum. Though the ultimatum suggests that Ukrainian forces could face gunfire, another possibility is that, at least as a first stage, the Russians might try simply to make life uncomfortable by shutting off base electricity and water.
On Monday, the US said that the ultimatum, if put into effect, would be “a dangerous escalation of the situation.” If the Russian offensive in Ukraine proceeds, the US plans to block visas and assets for responsible Russian officials. Already, the Pentagon announced a suspension of military ties with Moscow, including exercises and planned meetings. As the deadline passed, US secretary of state John Kerry refueled in New York on his way to Kiev.
Russian officials denied there was any ultimatum, calling it “total nonsense.” But Russia’s own Interfax reported that it was issued by fleet commander Alexander Vitko, and Christopher Miller, editor of the local Kyiv Post, tweeted that he personally witnessed it being issued.
What’s more, as a preliminary step to justify a further Russian offensive, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, on Monday waved a letter that he said was written by ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. In it, he said the ousted president had requested the deployment of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil in order to restore “law and order.”