The live updates on the Kiev Post are looking dire for everyone except Vladimir Putin and his henchmen: Russian soldiers traveling with pro-Russian paramilitary groups are laying siege to Ukrainian military bases (and smashing up border patrol stations), at least one Ukrainian regional council has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian central government, the murderous Berkut riot police who killed demonstrators in Kiev seem to be manning checkpoints blocking journalists and others from traveling into Crimea, and the chief commander of the Ukrainian navy has ordered soldiers to surrender.
Yesterday, I wondered when Putin would manufacture his Gulf-of-Tonkin moment to justify a full-scale invasion and land grab, but now it seems that he doesn't need to—the Ukrainians can't fight back.
If they do, he'll have his justification. If they don't, he can take whatever he wants and nobody, it seems, is in a position to stop him.
Meanwhile, acting Ukrainian president Oleksandr Turchynov says he can't even get president Putin or prime minister Medvedev on the phone. From a speech he gave earlier today:
The situation is very serious. The Russian army is blocking military bases of Ukraine in Crimea. They put an ultimatum demanding that our soldiers disarm themselves or the bases will be stormed. The deadline time was 5 a.m. today. They didn't start storming the bases on 5 a.m., but the situation is still tense there. I couldn't reach (Russian President Vladimr) Putin or (Russian Prime Minister Dmytry Medvedev), but I talked (on the phone) to Russian parliament speaker Sergey Naryshkin. I told him that the Ukrainian army is protecting its bases and acts under the laws of Ukraine. Their aim is to stop Ukraine's economy and to start chaos. That is why they try to start panic.
And what's Obama going to do in response? Wag his finger and not show up to a summit meeting? Putin is clearly willing to pay whatever vague "costs" Obama threatened a few days ago.
But Timothy Snyder, writing in the New Republic, says the EU has more power than it realizes, and perhaps more power than the US. It has direct access to the vanity and the pocketbooks of rich Russians—the real housewives of Moscow:
Tourism in the European Union is a safety valve for a large Russian middle class that takes its cues in fashion and pretty much everything else from European culture. Much of the Russian elite has sent its children to private schools in the European Union or Switzerland. Beyond that, since no Russian of any serious means trusts the Russian financial system, wealthy Russians park their wealth in European banks. In other words, the Russian social order depends upon the Europe that Russian propaganda mocks. And beneath hypocrisy, as usual, lies vulnerability.
Soft power can hurt. General restrictions on tourist visas, a few thousand travel bans, and a few dozen frozen accounts might make a real difference.
And if you're curious to see how the Kremlin would like you to think about the current situation, check out the homepage of RT.com which announces that Russia is heading into Ukraine to save it from "revolutionary chaos" and "humanitarian crisis."
If you take their word for it, Russia is there to soothe the chaos, not aggravate it.
As Chris Collison, our man in Kiev, reported a few days ago, one of the first things the interim government did was try to bring Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers closer together—speak-a-different-language day and all that.
Within 24 hours, Russian troops had barged into the country, waving guns around in the name of peace and security.