UPDATE: The pretext for Russia to formally invade Ukraine happened overnight, with the newly-installed Crimean prime minister requesting aid to restore peace and order. Putin promptly asked the Russian parliament to allow him to send troops into Ukraine; it was approved unanimously. Good times.
To say that things have escalated quickly in the Ukraine would be a massive understatement. A week ago, the world was watching the Sochi Olympics go completely smoothly under the watchful fatherly eye of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Viktor Yanukovich was the president of Ukraine. Less than seven days later, Yanukovich is unemployed and Russian VDV paratroopers are effectively invading the Crimea.
A number of other events have taken place in the meantime. These including the revelation that Ukraine is completely broke (in part because Team Yanukovich stole billions), the release of kleptocrat and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and Yanukovich’s former residence being turned into a public park nicknamed “the museum of corruption.”
And then there’s the small issue of not everybody being ok with an incompetent and corrupt yet still democratically elected president being overthrown using the muscle of nationalists and fascists. Most of these people are ethnic Russians in the south and eastern parts of the country, particularly the Crimea. The Crimean Russians haven’t taken the government change well by any stretch of the imagination. First, massive pro-Russia rallies took place in several cities, with Russian flags being forcibly flown from some government buildings, most notably in Kerch on the far eastern side. Oh, and they formed “self-defense groups,” which is a fancy term for militias.
Usually, nothing good happens when armed militias start being formed. This case isn’t one of the rare exemptions like the anti-cartel vigilante groups in Mexico. Within days of being formed, masked gunmen that presumably are part of one of these militias (operative word being presumably, they could have been Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces for all anyone knows) seized control of the Crimean parliament and several other government buildings. Then the Russian military just kind of showed up, with the only hint of a bullshit pretext being a statement that all armored vehicle movement has been agreed upon with the Ukrainian government, something the days-old administration denies. Except that still doesn’t explain the paratroopers or the shut down of Crimean airspace.
Now what? It’s not in anybody’s interest for anyone to get shot, despite the whole massive violation of sovereignty thing, because the second somebody gets shot, Shit Gets Real. And this is the kind of shit getting real that may make those Senators bitching about the army getting too small be right. Also, they literally can’t afford it. Ukraine, as I mentioned before, is completely broke to the point of imposing capital controls on foreign currency; the country is certain to default in a few months unless it gets a huge amount of aid, the latest estimate being $30 billion. Russia, meanwhile, is teetering on the edge of recession; a severe enough crash could produce unrest too big for even the well-drilled OMON to handle.
So, until the next escalation, the situation is analogous to an armed guy walking into your living room, sitting on the couch, and then daring you to do something without actually wanting you to do anything because then everyone is fucked. And the cops probably aren’t going to come.