I've been holding off on posting because the twittersphere is full of rumors right now. Then Journalists began reporting two explosions in Simferopol. Now, Journos are saying that those explosions were not explosions. They were bangs. Others say they were either fireworks or sound grenades. There are no sirens, there is no fire or smoke.
There were then rumors are that there's a firefight at a Ukranian base in Simferopol, and that power has been cut to the base. I DO NOT believe those rumors, because we'd have something more if it were true. I am ONLY posting that rumor because it is so prevalent on twitter and because I want people to know that it seems to have been debunked.
Here's what we DO know: There are tense standoffs accross the region between Ukrainian and Russian troops.
In one situation, a Ukrainian Special Forces/Coast Guard base (it is being reported as both by various news agencies) was surrounded by Russian troops. The Ukrainians have Light Armor, Weaponized APCs similar to American Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Russians didn't appear to have anti-armor weapons, and only had unarmored troop trucks, and a handful of the Russian equivalent of a Humvee. There are confirmed media reports of Russian jets and Helos operating in the area.
Video of that is here:
This may be the base where there were rumors of explosions.
According to twitter, CNN reported that power was cut to a military base and a firefight was ongoing. No other journos reported this. Because it's CNN, I didn't trust it, and that instinct turned out to be correct.
Videos have also been popping up of Russian helicopters entering Ukraine. I don't have the capability to confirm whether this footage is from the current conflict, I could be punked and this could be footage from Georgia, but I am getting current reports of Helicopters entering Crimea, including one Video posted in Ukrainian, entitled "Russian Choppers on the way."
UPDATE: THE CURRENT STATUS OF THIS VIDEO IS DEBUNKED. It is from a 2013 Russian Dashcam.
The first video shows four Russian gunships, followed by 24 transport helicopters in formation.
We know Russian Choppers are active in Crimea. We do not know if this footage which is being widely circulated is accurate.
The second video may be from Georgia, in fact I seem to remember having seen it before. The videos have been appearing together, which makes me think that they might not be accurate.
Some rumors that those helicopters are straying into Ukraine as a whole, but I seriously doubt that at this point. Al Jazeera and BBC have both confirmed Jets on the Crimean border, but there are NO verified reports of Russian soldiers operating outside of Crimea at this time.
I'm going to hold off on posting a lot of information here. I've had a LOT of trouble verifying information coming out of Crimea so far today, and my infostreams are a mess.
I think my major job today may be debunking information, but the situation is extremely tense at the moment, and it's difficult to get a handle on what's going on.
While I have trusted sources from Kyiv, they're a long way away from Crimea, and the situation has developed so quickly there that I haven't yet identified ANY trustworthy social media sources in Crimea.
At this point I am considering ALL information not confirmed by the swarm of Journos on the ground unconfirmed. There's a lot of alarmist information out there. I'm going to attempt to dispell as much of it as I can, but this is a very messy situation which is getting messier by the minute.
Updates are incoming.
There will be three information trustworthiness ratings for this liveblog:
RUMOR. I'm hearing this from somewhat trustworthy sources.
CONFIRMED. The rumor has been confirmed by journalists on the ground.
DEBUNKED. The rumor has been dispelled by Journos on the ground, or by other trustworthy sources.
There's a lot more information out there, I'm going to try to confirm some of it, and in the lulls, I'm going to write about what I've read today on the complicated situation in Crimea.
2:48 PM PT: It seems the CNN-started rumor about "explosions" managed to punk the BCC, France 24, and Al Jazeera.
2:53 PM PT: Reports of Russian Military movement outside of Crimea may be accurate. Sources I trust from Kyiv are tweeting this video, which they claim is of Russian Armor being transported under police escort in Eastern Ukraine:
UPDATE: THIS VIDEO HAS BEEN DEBUNKED.
Russian Helos in Ukraine proper could be providing support for the transport of Armor into Crimea.
3:29 PM PT: Okay, I seriously doubt that there's action in Belbek.
There's at least one photo from a soldier with a cameraphone. So we know that folks have eyes on the ground and are capable of getting images out.
If Belbek were really involved in a firefight right now, they'd be getting more images out.
Here's the image:
— Alex Panchenko (@AlexPanchenko2) March 2, 2014
3:36 PM PT: The Russians don't seem to want this to escalate into an armed conflict, and the Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their bases are NOT standing down, as is being claimed.
The Guardian has a report from INSIDE one of the Ukrainian bases under siege.
An elite battalion of Ukrainian Marines is surrounded by Russian forces who are demanding that they disarm themselves and surrender. This is the response:
Asked what would happen if, next time, the Russians came with orders rather than requests, the men claimed to have no doubt. "I am Russian myself, I was born there," he said. "But we are professional soldiers and we have given an oath of duty. We will not give up this place without a fight."Source
According to a report I posted above from the Guardian, the bases were calling each other to verify orders.
I don't believe the Russian reports that most military units are siding with Russia. It's pretty clear that numerous bases are refusing to stand down.
I also do not believe the reports from twitter that conflict has broken out. The Russians do not seem to be interested in escalating this fight, and have a siege mentality right now.
I also have an update. The reports of Russian military movement in Ukraine but outside of Crimea are now debunked, and I've downgraded the source tweeting that information.
There was confusion about whether the tank column in question was in Mikolaiv or Маріуполь. Маріуполь is Mariupol, and it's on major road between the Russian Border and the Crimean peninsula. Mikolaiv is in Western Ukraine. There's no reason the Russians would have any military units anywhere near there. The video is disinformation.
I can confirm that the tank column in question was A) In Mikolaiv, western Ukraine, and B) almost definitely Ukrainian.
So Ukrainian armor is headed to the Crimean Border.
4:39 PM PT: Final update for the evening.
Here's what I can confirm.
The Russian forces are doing everything they can to Claim Crimea, WITHOUT shooting anyone.
This is intentional. If this turns into an Armed conflict, it would be a disaster for Everyone. I've read some Analysis on Putin, and I think his plan is to just take Crimea without firing a shot.
But if shots are fired, there's a good chance that we, NATO, and the EU get dragged into this.
A very good chance.
So it's in everyone's interest to keep this peaceful. And I'm sure from the reports I'm getting from military bases with standoffs that it's going to stay peaceful. The Ukrainians are not going to fire on superior forces. Even when the ground forces outnumber the folks surrounding them, they're aware of Russian air support. Any Ukrainian move will get them attacked by gunships they can't shoot down.
Similarly, the Russians don't particularly want to fight Ukrainian soldiers, a good percentage of whom are Ethnically Russian.
Though those Ethnically Russian Ukrainian Soldiers are all, universally saying, that they are professional soldiers who will keep their oaths to defend Ukraine.
That they will not give up their positions without a fight.
The situation is tense, but no one seems like they want to make the first move. Some of the commanders have organized truces. In some of the photos I've seen, both sides have removed ammunition clips from their rifles, probably so that someone young and stupid doesn't drag two nations into a war. That's probably an agreement made by the military commanders on both sides.
So all that stands between the world and a major war that might drag NATO and the EU into a military standoff with Russia is the discipline of the soldiers on the ground, and the intelligence of their commanders.
Rumors continue to fly of this base and that base being taken. The disinformation campaign is strong here, and is coming from both sides.
This has been the most difficult and most frustrating live blog I've ever done. Finding and verifying information is nearly impossible.
Though I have read a lot of analysis, and will be posting an overview on the situation tomorrow.
Hopefully, everyone keeps their cool until then.
4:51 PM PT: Another update. The Chopper Videos are Debunked. They're from a 2013 Russian dashcam.
H/t to Claudius Bombarnac for finding this.