Ukraine: Government Propoganda or Russian Invasion?

Here we are, about 5 hours before polls open in Crimea for a referendum vote on Crimea remaining under Ukraine’s sphere of influence, or moving to Russia’s. Everyone knows the outcome already – the US, the EU, and Ukraine all admit that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea will again move to Russia’s control.

So what is the current propaganda mill spitting out today, and why?

Ukraine complained this evening that Russian troops moved off the Crimean peninsula, and onto mainland Ukraine in an armed incursion. They claim the Russians were after a gas distribution station in Strilkove, just 10km (6 mi) south of the Kherson region. The report is that 120 men, backed by armed helicopters, and that they took the distribution station.

The Foreign Minister of Ukraine said it was 80 men, and that they took the village.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry says that Ukrainian Army Forces “pressed back” the incursion, and that the Russian troops were “rebuffed immediately” and forced back to their “original place.”

The good news in all of it is that the Russians had the courtesy to stop at the border guard station, and discuss why they were going “into Ukraine” with the border guards.

The Crimeans say it was them and they went to investigate gas being cut off to Eastern Crimea (hurting schools, hospitals, etc.) and they ran off “saboteurs.”

The Russians have been silent on the issue.

Is this really an invasion of “mainland Ukraine?” Not really, but it is a trip across the Ukrainian border onto a thin strip of land that goes between Crimea and mainland Ukraine. In general, it is about 1km (1/2 mile) across, and at Strilkove it is about 5km (2.5 mi) across. It is literally a small village that is a gas distribution point on the Russia/Ukraine natural gas pipeline which delivers gas to Crimea.

I do not know who did what in this case. The points I would look at are:

  1. I doubt that Russia really wants an armed conflict. I think they are more interested in getting Crimea under its control first. Pulling such an invasion before the Crimea vote would be senseless.
  2. I can see Crimea wanting to keep the gas flowing through the pipeline, at least for the time being. Russia does have means to deliver gas to Crimea, if necessary, but it would not be ideal.
  3. Ukraine needs to prove to the world that their “militant Russia” chant is true. They keep ignoring the antics of the Right Sector, and keep blaming Russia for the Right Sector’s doings. There is much proof that these “violent actions” in Donetsk and Kharkiv that the new Ukrainian government blames on Russia are actually the Right Sector trying to cause an “incident” that will be blamed on Russia.
  4. If Ukraine wants to cut off the gas to Crimea, it has other locations that it can do it. The place in question is not a main natural gas line to Crimea, as seen on this map. It is also not the only way Russia can get gas to Crimea.

My personal view is that the Ukrainians have the most to gain by having a skirmish with the Russians. I would be careful not to provoke them too much.