While the Russians are now denying it, there are numerous reports on the ground in Ukraine that a Russian naval commander threatened, via loudspeaker, to attack the Ukrainian fleet at 5am tomorrow, essentially declaring open war on Ukraine.
Christopher Miller, the editor of the Kyiv Post, the leading English-language paper in Kiev – someone the respected experts on the region recommend people follow for accurate on-the-ground updates on the tense situation in Crimea – reports that he heard the threat with his own ears.
Miller reports two things. First, that his sources heard the Russian Black Sea Fleet commander warn Ukrainian forces to defect and join Russia, or the Russian ship would basically destroy the Ukrainian Navy.
“If they don’t give up by 5 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a storm on UA military forces all over Crimea,” Miller’s source reports the Russian fleet commander as saying.
The Russians have turned around and denied making the ultimatum.
The problem for the Russians is that Miller heard a similar threat, via loudspeaker from the Russian ship, with his own ears.
I asked Miller about this via Twitter. Here is his response:
Miller confirmed to someone else that in fact he heard the threat himself:
At this point, we should stop trusting what the Russians say, and start believing our own eyes. As another story had reported (I can’t recall which now), the Ukrainians played this smart, refusing to use violence first, which has put the Russians in a bit of a pickle. The Russians were likely hoping for violence from the other side, which would then “provoke” them to respond violently and take over Crimea entirely, or even eastern Ukraine.
I’m almost wondering if Ukrainian civilians shouldn’t swarm the ships, swarm state facilities, and let the Russians bluster all they want. In essence, volunteer to become human shields.
It’s one thing for the world to let Russia steal some territory and blow up some ships. It’s quite another to let Russia murder thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians, while thousands of smartphones stream the carnage live to the world. That is something Russia, and the west, could never walk away from. It’s a terribly risky gamble, but isn’t all of this.