Russian troops won't leave the Ukraine until the situation is "normalized," foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said today, arguing that Russia was defending its own citizens by invading. The people who ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych "intend to make use of the fruits of their victory to attack human rights and fundamental freedoms of minorities," Lavrov said in Geneva, according to the BBC. Russia appears to be tightening its grip on Crimea, with thousands of troops now in the region and large Ukrainian military bases surrounded. Russian troops have also secured a large ferry terminal, raising fears that yet more soldiers are on the way.
In the latest developments:
- No shots have been fired yet, but Ukraine's acting prime minster says armed conflict is a definite possibility and the country's armed forces have been mobilized, reports the Washington Post. If Vladimir Putin wants war, "he has reached that target within a few inches," he said.
- All eyes are on President Obama, who has condemned Russia's "breach of international law," sent John Kerry to Kiev, and approved economic sanctions designed to, in one official's words, "make it hurt," the New York Times reports. "It’s the most important, most difficult foreign policy test of his presidency," says one career diplomat. "There’s no one in Europe who can approach him in power. He’s going to have to lead."
- The other seven members of the G8 have, at Obama's urging, condemned the invasion and suspended plans to attend the group's June summit in Sochi, a move shrugged off by a Putin spokesman. "It's not a minus for Russia," he said. "It will be a minus for the G8."
- But in a potentially positive development, Putin has agreed to Germany's proposal for a team of European observers to head to Crimea on a fact-finding mission, the LA Times reports. The Kremlin news service said that Putin had agreed in a phone call with Angela Merkel, telling her that Russians faced "the unrelenting threat of violent action from the side of ultranationalist forces."
- Meanwhile, Russia is taking a beating in the financial markets. The Moscow stock market plunged 10%, and the ruble hit a record low against the dollar and euro before the Russian central bank stepped in, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal report. The crisis has also driven up global oil prices.