Since the protests in Kiev turned bloody weeks ago, there has been one question on my mind: when will Russia invade Ukraine?
And now we know the answer: yesterday.
On the eve of the secession referendum in Crimea, Putin used his elite commandos – Spetsnaz – to execute his move beyond Crimea.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian border guard service, Oleg Slobodyan, told The Associated Press the Russians, about 120 in all, took control of a natural gas distribution station in the village of Strilkove, part of Ukraine proper and outside the borders of Crimea.
What’s more, there was Russian inspired violence in both Donetsk and Kharkiv on Friday. And there is bound to be more today and in the coming days.
The aggressive move by Putin came on the heels of a tense day at the United Nations Security Council wherein American and European diplomats pushed for a vote on a resolution declaring the Sunday referendum illegal. As to be expected, Russia vetoed the measure, but was the only vote against it.
China, Russia’s strongest and most loyal ally in the past few years, did not vote with Russia in the end. That said, China did not vote for the resolution, but rather abstained.
Abstention should be seen as nothing but support, albeit tacit, for Russia, especially given their commitment to non-interference. As China and Russia have done in a number of Security Council votes in the recent past, they are once again backing one another even if it may not look that way on the surface.
Western governments and diplomats hope that the UN security council vote will help push Russia towards further isolation and, with any luck, halt – or at the very least slow down – Putin.
But if the past few weeks have taught us anything it’s that there’s no halting Putin and every time that we think he may be slowing down, he’s actually just speeding up.
American and European leaders are working on lists of Russians to impose sanctions upon after the referendum. They could be executed as early as Monday.
Indeed, some on the list are members of Putin’s inner circle, including Sergei K. Shoigu, the defense minister; Aleksandr V. Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service; Nikolai P. Patrushev, the secretary of the security council; Sergei B. Ivanov and Vladislav Surkov, two of Mr. Putin’s closest and most powerful advisers; Dmitri O. Rogozin, a deputy prime minister; Aleksei Miller, the chief executive of Gazprom, the state energy giant; and Igor Sechin, head of the powerful oil company Rosneft.
The White House suggested the move by Russia only increased the likelihood of sanctions. “We remain concerned about any attempt by Russia to increase tensions or threaten the Ukrainian people, and as we have long said, if Russia continues to take escalatory steps, there will be consequences,” said Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, in Kiev, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine “reserves the right to use all necessary measures” to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
To be sure, today will bring with it more surprises. In the last 48 hours alone, John Kerry failed at diplomatic talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in London, NATO announced that several of its websites had been hit by cyberattacks, Russia ran a “training exercise” in Crimea and now is formally taking control of Ukrainian territory.