Putin puts troops on 'high alert'
Russia has put its combat units closest to the Ukraine on high alert as authorities in Kiev continue to struggle to form a new government.
The Russian defense ministry claims its only a "combat readiness test." They probably said something similar Iimmediately prior to the Russian invasion of Georgia back in 2008.
Thousands of ethnic Russians, who form the majority in Ukraine's Crimea region, demonstrated for independence for the peninsula that hosts part of Moscow's Black Sea Fleet. They scuffled with rival demonstrators, mainly from the Tatar minority, who support the new authorities in Kiev.
With the political turmoil hammering Ukraine's economy, the hryvnia currency tumbled 4 percent on Wednesday, with ripples spreading to Russia where the rouble fell to five-year lows and bank shares took a hit.
Ukraine's central bank, which has been rapidly burning its hard currency reserves to protect the hryvnia, said it has abandoned a managed exchange rate policy in favor of a flexible currency, a senior official told CNBC TV.
Moscow also denounced what it described as the rise of "nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment" in the country's mainly Ukrainian-speaking western areas, where it said Russian speakers were being deprived of rights. It has repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of Russian citizens in Ukraine.
"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (0500 ET) today," Interfax news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
Since Yanukovich's downfall on Saturday, all eyes have been on Putin, who ordered an invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008 to protect two self-declared independent regions with many ethnic Russians, which he then recognized as independent states.
Any military action in Ukraine, a country of 46 million people that has close ties with European powers and the United States, would be far more serious - arguably the closest the West and Russia have come to outright confrontation since the Cold War.
Putin is not an empty bluffer so we should probably consider this a war warning. That doesn't mean that war is inevitable, just that Putin appears ready to do what is necessary to safeguard his access to the Black Sea for his fleet in the Crimea and protect Russians living in Ukraine.
The Kiev government probably feels like it's walking on egg shells. They must be very careful and weigh every move lest Putin get the wrong idea and let loose the dogs of war. They are not going to make the same mistake made by the Georgian government, who thought they would receive help from the west. Ukraine is an important country but not worth starting World War III over. The west is warning Putin but he has to be aware that the US and EU will stand down in case of intervention.
There are alreadyd murmurings from Moscow about Russian speaking Ukrainians being denied their "rights." If Putin wants an excuse to go in, he would probably use that one.