Evidence that the Ukrainian military is disintegrating in the aftermath of the so-called revolution in Kiev a week ago, that saw a pro-Nazi regime seize power, emerged yesterday morning, with reports in the English-language Russian press indicating mass defections and/or resignations of Ukrainian troops stationed in the Crimea. The most significant defection was that of Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who had just been appointed head of the Ukrainian Navy two days ago by (illegally) “Acting President” Alexander Turchynov. Today, Russian TV showed video of Berezovsky swearing allegiance to the “people of Crimea.” The Republic will have its own navy, which will be commanded by Rear Admiral Berezovsky, Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said, according to Russia Today. The response in Kiev to Berezovsky’s defection was to fire him and begin criminal proceedings against him.
Berezovsky’s defection followed reports that the Ukrainian navy’s flagship, the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny, had stopped taking orders from Kiev and was flying the St. Andrew’s Cross flag of the Russian Navy. The Hetman Sahaidachny is on its way home after having participated in international anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa; its present location was not announced by Kiev or Crimea, but a Russian Navy Staff source told Itar-TASS the Ukrainian ship was at Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, and is expected at Sevastopol March 5 or 6. There were also contradictory reports on the status of the rest of the Ukrainian Navy, also based in Sevastopol. Some reports had ten ships leave Sevastopol for Odessa, but then some of them turned around for undetermined reasons.
Ukrainian ground troops are also said to be switching sides. RIA Novosti reported, this morning, that Ukrainian servicemen stationed in Crimea are leaving their military units, en masse, and handing over weaponry and arsenals to local pro-Russia authorities and militia. Several military bases in Crimea are reported to have been taken over by Russian troops without a shot being fired, although the Guardian, on its live update page, insists that there are standoffs between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops at two Ukrainian military bases at least.
In Kiev, Turchynov has ordered a full mobilization of Ukraine’s armed forces, but it is not clear what that means in practical terms. According to an analysis published by the New York Times, yesterday, the leadership of the Ukrainian military is in disarray as three chiefs of staff have been appointed and fired since Feb. 19. The armed forces themselves, with about 130,000 personnel, despite having a close relationship with NATO, are still largely a conscript force equipped with Soviet-era equipment and weaponry. Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a military research institution in Moscow, told the Times that “22 years have gone by during a state of near continuous economic decline and the Ukrainian military has received practically no new equipment. Now the force is somewhat pathetic.” Ukraine’s forces in the Crimea are said to consist of a single infantry brigade of about 3,500 soldiers and a single air force squadron with about two dozen SU-27 fighter jets.
So far, not a shot has been fired in Crimea. It seems to be the case, as several media outlets have reported, that the Ukrainian military is no more interested in getting into a fight with Russia than it was in intervening against the protestors in Kiev prior to last week’s coup.