There are recent rumors that part of the Crimea (a Ukrainian province) is now under control of Russian military. I am trying to piece together what's going on from Ukrainian news... and Russian, and what my friends tell me. Some of the news sources I link may not have 100% accurate information.
Crimean Peninsula is a region within modern Ukraine with historically strong Russian sympathies. It was conquered by Russia in the XVIIIth century (previously, it was the Crimean Khanate, a client state of the Ottoman Empire). Crimea officially became part of Ukraine (Ukrainian Soviet Republic) only in 1954. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, in 1991-1994, Crimea enjoyed a wide autonomy within Ukraine, which now has been curbed. The biggest Russian Navy base is in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Recent developments in Kiev were not welcomed by many people in the Crimea, and there is strong sentiment among the ethnic Russian population (which is the majority) toward more autonomy. Some loud voices call for secession, or even for joining Russia. Secessionists complain that Kiev gives back to Crimea only about 1/3 of the revenue generated in the province. Some members of the other prominent Crimean ethnic group, the Crimean Tartars, are strongly against that and for remaining a part of Ukraine. In clashes between Tartars and secessionists, two people were trampled to death yesterday.
An early parliamentary vote is scheduled in Ukraine for May 25, in Crimea, the local authorities added a referendum question on whether Crimea wants more autonomy within Ukraine.
The former president of Ukraine Yanukovych has surfaced after disappearing for several days, and gave a press-conference chiding Putin for being "so reticent, so silent," and refusing to meet with Yanukovych.
Communications with Crimea have been cut off. Apparently, some unidentified people broke into the telecommunications hubs and damaged equipment, although Ukrtelekom company just said that they have re-established communication.
Ukrainian ambassador at the UN said that 10 transport planes (Il-76) with troops and 11 attack helicopters (Mi-24) landed on the Russian military base in Sevastopol.
Here's a video showing some helicopters...
Russian FM told Ukrainian ambassador that any troop movements are strictly in accordance with military-base treaty...
There are conflicting rumors about somebody seizing control of the two major Crimean civilian airports. Airspace over Crimea is blocked for civilian flights?
Airspace will be blocked for all traffic until 18:30 March 1. Who is blocking it and where the info is coming from, unclear.
Kirovsky military airfield is reported to be seized by "sixteen trucks packed with soldiers."
BBC shows a video showing armed and armored men without insignia taking over the local parliament building in Simferopol, but a friend says this footage is 4 days old.
Ukraine ministry of defense says that there is a risk Ukrainian troops in Crimea will be attacked by "radical separatists"...
Acting president of Ukraine accused Russia of "trying to provoke us into military conflict," he said it's the same scenario as between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
Ukraine sends Russia a sternly-worded note condemning troop movement.
Ukraine acting president Turchynov said he would directly address Putin and that the situation "will be normalized."
Communication with Crimea being restored...
Samantha Power offered to send a mediator to Crimea, Russian UN rep (Churkin) says Crimean local authorities should be asked what they want.
UN Security council just held a meeting convened by Lithuania at Ukraine's request. Asked everybody to behave and respect Ukraine's territorial integrity.
A document purported to be a "presidential decree" by Yanukovych has appeared on the internets. Among other things, this "decree" moves the capital of Ukraine to Sevastopol. My friends say, "fake."
Will update, I am talking to several folks in the region...
The good news is, nobody's shooting at anybody so far, and looks like everybody's calling it a night.
8:03 PM PT: I was able to receive somewhat belated news from Simferopol (Crimean capital) and Alushta - this info was accurate in the late evening of Friday (now it is Saturday morning). In Alushta, nothing out of the ordinary. In Simferopol, armed people were blocking entrance to the airport. Here I'll uqote - "looked too old, well-fed, and well-equipped to be regular Russian soldiers." Classes in the Crimean Tartar University were canceled until Monday. The rest of the city life was undisturbed, municipal services working as usual, market prices holding steady.
In unrelated news, interestingly, the exchange rate of hryvnia (Ukrainian currency) to Euro has stabilized and even gone up a bit.
8:55 PM PT: Crimean local government issued a decree creating their own riot police force based on the local units of riot police "Berkut" disbanded by the decree of the parliament in Kiev.
10:56 PM PT: The newly elected (2/27) prime-minister of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov said that he is in control of the navy, the army, coast guard, etc., asked Putin to be the guarantor of peace in the province.
This is where I have to stop updating... but the events are still unfolding. Thanks to everybody who participated in the diary discussion!