Belbek Air Base: Russia seizes one of the last Crimea bases under Ukraine control.

Russia Seizes Crimean Air Base as It Agrees to International Monitors in Ukraine

Russia Seizes Crimean Air Base as It Agrees to International Monitors in Ukraine

The Slatest
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March 22 2014 4:44 PM

Russia Seizes Crimean Air Base as It Agrees to International Monitors in Ukraine

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Russian soldiers storm a Ukrainian military air base in the small city of Belbek

Photo by VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

Russian forces used armored vehicles to smash their way into an air base in Belbek, effectively seizing what had become one of the last bases still under Ukrainian control in Crimea. Yet even as Russia consolidated its control over Crimea, it also seemed to send a sign that its ambitions did not extend beyond Crimea as it dropped opposition to international monitors being sent to Ukraine. The Russian forces stormed the air base following a standoff that lasted more than a week and as “an ominous mood was settling over the town,” notes the Washington Post. Earlier, the Russian troops surrounding the base had given Ukrainian forces inside an hour to surrender, reports Reuters.  

It seems Russia and its supporters are running out of patience and want Ukrainian forces to either switch sides or leave Crimea. The standoff at the Belbek base may well end up being one of the last acts of resistance by Ukrainian forces in Crimea, notes the Associated Press. Now only a handful of bases remain in Kiev’s control although the exact number remains unclear. What does seem certain though is that “the Russians have clearly decided that enough is enough and they want the rest of these bases under their control,” notes the BBC’s Ian Pannell. “A clear message is being sent to any other Ukrainian soldiers thinking of trying to make a stand that Russia is prepared to use force to enforce the rule of Moscow here.”

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Even as it strengthened its grip on Crimea, the Russian government appeared to try to tamp down speculation that it was getting ready to creep into other areas of Ukraine by effectively endorsing sending 100 international monitors to places outside Crimea. The way in which the international monitors will not be sent to Crimea illustrates how Russia has effectively taken control of the region. But it “seems unlikely that Russia would agree to an international observer mission if it was planning to pour troops over the border into eastern Ukraine, where demands for greater autonomy from Kiev or even annexation with Russia have emerged among a large population of Russian speakers,” notes the New York Times.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.