Separatist Crimean militias spark bloodshed

In the past week, Russian borders have been redrawn. The Duma and the Crimean Parliament have approved annexation, and fears of war have escalated as the US and EU have slapped sanctions on members of Putin’s inner circle. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the current Prime Minister of Ukraine, declared yesterday that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage,” claiming further that “Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian servicemen and that is a war crime.”

While there are reports of a Ukrainian military officer being killed and several others being injured during a confrontation with Russian troops yesterday in Simferopol, it is unclear if the perpetrators were trained Russian troops or Crimean militia dressed in Russian fatigues. Calling themselves the “Self Defense Forces,” this Crimean separatist group has been responsible for several incidents in recent weeks that have been attributed to Russian military.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated emphatically during a news conference in Madrid last week that military personnel were mostly confined to Russian bases in airports and naval areas. He further added the self-defense forces of Crimea were acting of their own volition – “they take no orders from us,” he protested.

Facts are sketchy, as local officials in Simferopol claim that it was in fact one of their own that was injured by a sniper, not a Ukrainian officer. Officially, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries have agreed to a tentative ceasefire until March 21, a move that aims to prevent hostilities from breaking out in heavily occupied areas. The fact that the shooting occurred just hours after Vladimir Putin delivered a speech emphasizing that “there was not one single military confrontation in Crimea,” is indicative to how unstable the situation within Crimea is.

The Ukrainian interim President, Oleksandr Turchynov, significantly escalated his rhetoric in reaction to news of the attack, comparing Putin’s takeover of Crimea to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Austria and the Sudetenland. This comes after the Ukrainian government expressed its impatience with the lack of real action from the EU, accusing certain member countries of “taking care of business, trade, and economic interests.”

Other groups within Crimea have also expressed their discontent with Russian occupation and the outcome of the referendum – chief among them the Crimean Tatars. Deported en masse from Crimea by Stalin in 1944, they make up roughly 12% of the Crimean population and have formed their own self-defense militias in reaction to the recent crisis, according to statements released by a prominent local leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev. Most recently, they boycotted the referendum, calling it a sham.

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