Crimea: Following yesterday's referendum in which Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the regional parliament declared Crimea independent, as the Republic of Crimea. Crimean authorities said 83 percent of registered voters participated and more than 97 percent voted for union with Russia. Also on 17 March, Crimea sent a delegation to Moscow to present a formal request for union.
Russian President Putin signed an executive order that Russia recognizes Crimea's independence. "According to the will of the peoples of the Crimea in the all-Crimean referendum held on March 16, 2014, I order recognition of the Republic of Crimea, in which the city of Sevastopol has a special status, as a sovereign and independent state." The order comes into force immediately.
On 18 March President Putin is scheduled to address both houses of the Russian parliament regarding Crimea's request to become part of Russia.
Gorbachev. Russian former President and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev said, "Earlier, Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the Communist party's laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions," he told Interfax on Monday.
China: The Foreign Ministry published the following exchange from the daily press conference on 17 March.
Q: If Crimea becomes part of Russia, will the Chinese side recognize the outcome?
A: The Chinese side always respects the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries. A political solution to the Crimea issue should be found within a legal and orderly framework. All sides should exercise restraint and avoid taking actions that could intensify the conflict. The international community should play a constructive role in lowering the current tensions.
Comment: The Chinese are squarely on the fence on this issue. They will not allow secession or alienation of any Chinese claimed lands. On the other hand, they reserve the right to intervene in the affairs of their neighbors, such as Vietnam and North Korea, to protect Chinese interests.
US: On Monday the US imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea.The US order included Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, adviser Sergei Glazyev, deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin, and two state Duma deputies, Leonid Slutsky and Yelena Mizulina. Ukrainian officials included former president Yanukovych.
European Union (EU): The EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 21 people in Russia and Crimea and left open the possibility of adding harsher economic measures when EU leaders meet later this week. Of the 21 people, 10 are Russian politicians, three are military officials and eight are Ukrainians, mostly from Crimea.
Comment: Western media have been imprecise in their use of language. Russia did not declare Crimea independent; it recognized Crimea's independence. The US and EU did not impose sanctions on Russia, but on Russians. President Putin and his six cohorts are not annexing Crimea; Russia is doing that as an act of the state.
The personal sanctions and the sloppy language trivialize a strategic shift in the Black Sea and in the security situation in eastern Europe. The Russian leadership will understand that they just got a pass from the West for fragmenting the Ukraine, despite the 1994 Bucharest Memorandum guaranteeing its integrity. Apparently none of the signatories respect that agreement.
Russia will be encouraged to do more in order to secure and consolidate that prize and needs to do more. They need secure land routes from Russia to Crimea through southeastern Ukraine and will see the need to fortify Crimea. Expect a gradual increase in pro-Russian agitation in southeastern Ukraine and more Russian military activity in Crimea in coming weeks.
Poland: Poland's defense ministry announced it will re-launch plans to establish a joint Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian military brigade. The announcement said defense ministers will meet this week to discuss the formation of the brigade that would straddle NATO's eastern border.
Comment: This is arguably the strongest action taken by any European NATO member thus far. It is the only action that shows a deep appreciation of the implications of Russian state behavior. It is something the Russian leaders will understand and monitor, though they will dismiss it. This military unit -- assuming the three states actually raise a new formation -- would seem to commit two NATO members to the defense of Ukraine should the brigade ever go into action.
Ukraine: The Ukrainian parliament on Monday endorsed a presidential decree for a partial military mobilization to call up 40,000 reservists to counter Russia' military actions.
Comment: The call-up is for show, but it is symbolically more than personal sanctions and travel bans. Ukraine has no ability or money to raise and sustain a new army without large scale outside help.
Libya: For the record. US Navy SEALs seized the oil tanker Morning Glory that had escaped from the Libyan navy earlier in March, the U.S. Department of Defense said on 17 March. The ship's master said three Libyans had pirated the ship. Press indicated a US Navy crew will sail the ship back to Libya and return it to the Libyans.
Venezuela: Troops stormed a Caracas square on Sunday to evict protestors who had turned it into a stronghold during six weeks of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro. National Guard soldiers fired tear gas and turned water cannons on hundreds of demonstrators who hurled rocks and some petrol bombs before abandoning Plaza Altamira, in affluent east Caracas, which has been the scene of daily clashes.
Some soldiers rode into the square on motorbikes, rounding up a dozen demonstrators. The troops then began demolishing protesters' barricades.
In a separate part of Caracas, President Maduro told a pro-government rally, "We are going to carry on liberating spaces taken by the protesters."
Comment: Similar action took place in at least one other town, east of Caracas. A day after the round up, Caracas is quiet. Maduro threatened repeatedly to break the encampment. He proved he can keep his word. He also showed the protest was not the spearhead of a revolution, or counter-revolution, at least thus far.
End of NightWatch
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