At least 60 Ukrainian marines were detained today at a Crimean port as world leaders meet in The Hague to decide on a joint response to Moscow.
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Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor. He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor’s Terrorism & Security blog. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.
Russian troops seized a Ukrainian military base this morning, the third such capture in Crimea since Friday. President Barack Obama and other Group of Seven (G-7) leaders are set to hold an emergency summit today in The Hague to discuss how to respond to Russian policy in Eastern Europe.
Citing Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reports that Russian forces stormed the Feosodia marine base in eastern Crimea in the early hours of Monday morning. Using stun grenades and automatic weapons, the Russian troops captured scores of Ukrainian soldiers, including the base commander.
From 60 to 80 Ukrainian Marines have currently been detained and are actually in the captivity of Russian military at the Feodosia maritime port. Constant psychological pressure is being exerted on them.
According to the servicemen of the Marines battalion, “the main demand of the Russian invaders is the forced removal from Crimea to the mainland Ukraine of officers of the Ukrainian military unit, and only after that other representatives of the personnel will be released from captivity.”
The base had been surrounded by Russian troops for some time before its capture today. Two other Ukrainian bases, including the Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, were seized on Friday. Their capture follows Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, backed by a March 16 referendum in support of the move, which the West regards as illegal.
The BBC reports that shortly after the Feosodia base’s capture, interim Ukrainian President Olexander Turchynov announced “a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” including sending soldiers’ families to the mainland.
The events in Ukraine come as President Obama prepares to meet with the other leaders of the G-7 – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan – in the Netherlands to discuss how to deal with Russia. The G-7 is essentially the G-8 minus Russia, which joined the grouping in 1998. Today’s meeting is being held on the sidelines of an international nuclear security summit in The Hague that Russia is attending.
Last week the US and the European Union announced a slate of sanctions against Russia over its seizure of Crimea, including individual sanctions against members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Agence France-Presse reports that Obama has warned that further sanctions could be necessary: “And if Russia continues to escalate the situation, we need to be prepared to impose a greater cost.”
AFP adds that the US has also floated the possibility of ousting Russia from the Group of Eight, which it currently chairs, as punishment for operations in Crimea.
Bloomberg reports that while Mr. Putin is enjoying immense popularity in Russia for his annexation of Crimea, Russia is already suffering the cost of Western sanctions. The ruble has weakened considerably and credit agencies appear set to downgrade Russia’s investment rating. Russia will probably enter a recession later this year as “domestic demand is set to halt on the uncertainty shock and tighter financial conditions,” according to Moscow-based VTB.
Russia may shun foreign debt markets in 2014 because of higher borrowing costs, according to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. He expressed frustration at disruptions to MasterCard Inc. and Visa services for cards issued by banks on or linked to persons on the U.S. sanctions list.
“Some people say these sanctions won’t affect Russia’s financial system but they already are,” he said March 21.
Maintaining the pressure may hinge on the EU’s backing for new sanctions, a decision not lightly made due to the interdependence of the European and Russian markets. But Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, told Bloomberg that he believes increased sanctions are likely should the Americans decide on this approach.
“I’m convinced sanctions will escalate and the main decision-maker will be Barack Obama,” he said. “If he escalates the EU will almost have to follow.”