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Obama Warns Putin As Elite Russian Troops Patrol Crimea; Airports Shut, Flights Halted

Posted by Colin Clark on


Russian Spetsnatz

UPDATE: President Obama Warns Russia Against “Military Intervention” In Ukraine

“There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” Obama said in a rare unplanned appearance this evening in the White House press room. “We need strong American and European leadership now to forestall any further threats to international peace and stability. Russia’s leaders must understand that military intervention and further interference in Ukraine’s affairs are unacceptable, and would result in significant consequences for Russia.”

Obama, in one of the more notable understatements of the week, noted that: “Right now, the situation remains very fluid.”

WASHINGTON: The UN Security Council meets this afternoon on the deteriorating and unstable situation in Ukraine’s Crimean region. Highly disciplined troops wearing Russian uniforms are patrolling the two airports in Crimea and all flights have been halted. The troops carry Russian weapons, albeit unloaded. And now the AP has spotted Russian armored vehicles, the BMPs so familiar to NATO and Afghans, apparently on their way to Kiev. Turret guns are unmanned; their Russian flags are clearly visible.

The Russian Foreign Ministry claims they had to deploy Russian troops to protect their naval base. Of course, the troops aren’t being used to secure the base perimeter. Instead, they appear to be headed to the Crimean regional capital of Sinferopol.

A colleague I’ve known for more than 20 years, ITN’s Foreign editor Lindsey Hilsum, Tweeted this description of the troops to me from Crimea:

“They are in full Russian uniform minus insignia so can’t identify units. Well trained and organised, following orders.”

Some of their equipment, according to former military sources, appears to be that used only by highly trained special forces troops, Spetsnaz. Used for counterterrorism operations (they did much of the work capping terrorists before the Sochi Olympics) and experienced in disruptive operations, the Spetsnaz report directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They were in the vanguard when Russia battled Georgia — on the ground and online — in 2008.

At this point, Putin certainly seems to be doing what the former KGB lieutenant colonel is very good at: exploiting a tumultuous and chaotic situation with an eye to garnering as much advantage for the Rodina (motherland in Russian) as possible.

Lindsey’s view of this is pretty clear, as evidenced by the headline on her latest blog posting: “Why the trouble in Ukraine has only just begun.”

The Republicans on Capitol Hill are eager to point to Putin’s perfidy. During breakfast yesterday with the top Republicans on the Armed Services committees,  Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate committee, and Rep. Buck McKeon, chair of the House version, both made clear their grim suspicion of Putin’s motives and sounded more than willing to help Ukraine as much as possible. Sen. John McCain went on to the BBC this morning and noted that he had predicted Putin’s moves and spoke of sanctions should Russia move on Ukraine.

It sounds like war looms unless Putin and the Ukrainians are very careful. A key question at this point is what is America going to do, other than say this isn’t the Cold War. Meanwhile, remember what Russia did in Georgia and keep your fingers crossed.

What do you think?