A visual guide to the ongoing conflict over Crimea
How Russia Took Control of Crimea
Days after the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics, President Vladimir V. Putin began a covert military operation in Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine that was once part of Russia and is a vital base for the Russian Navy. Here are key moments in the operation.
On Feb. 27, in one of the first maneuvers of the operation, the Parliament building in Crimea’s capital is captured.
Russian troops seize roads to the mainland, preventing Ukraine from sending troops and allowing Russian forces to move more freely.
Russian forces also arrive by ferry and helicopter across the Kerch Strait. They later take control of the ferry terminal.
Russian troops take over Ukraine’s main air base in Crimea. This prevents the Ukrainian military from flying in reinforcements and from using its MiG-29 fighter jets to intercept Russian aircraft.
Russia flies troops to this airbase already under their control. These are in addition to forces already allowed in Crimea under a previous agreement with Ukraine.
Russian naval ships appear to prevent Ukrainian ships from leaving port. Russia leases part of the port to be the home of its Black Sea Fleet.
Russia Tightens Its Grip on Crimea
With shows of force at Ukrainian bases, Russia continued to consolidate its military position throughout Crimea.
Russian forces raid a missile base on March 10, scaling its outer walls and outmatching the sailors inside without firing a shot, according to Ukrainian officials.
Russian-backed Crimean officials demand that Ukrainian soldiers hand over an air defense base by 10 p.m. The deadline passes without incident.
Russian troops take over a military hospital on March 10. The next day, pro-Russian regional officials appear to cancel flights coming from Kiev.
Russian forces surround the Southern Naval Base, cutting off the troops inside and blocking an amphibious tank landing ship docked there.
Russian forces infiltrate an air base on March 10 and take up positions along a runway.
Russian soldiers penetrate a Ukrainian base after firing in the air, according to a Ukrainian military spokesman.
A Russian Naval Base in Crimea
Sevastopol has been the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since 1783. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia leased part of the port from Ukraine to continue using the base. The Ukrainian Navy also uses the bay. An analysis by IHS Jane’s of satellite imagery captured March 3 by Airbus Defense and Space/CNES shows the positions of some of the Russian vessels.
The satellite image showed three Russian naval ships in an apparent attempt to prevent three Ukrainian naval ships from leaving port. The largest Ukrainian vessel was formerly a research ship that had been converted for use as a command ship.
Two guided missile warships were parked on the north side of the harbor.
One of the fleet’s two hovercraft was parked here. The second one could not be seen in the satellite imagery. These two hovercraft are primarily used as combat vessels and are equipped with missiles.
Ukrainian and Russian Military Strength
Russia’s military abilities dwarf those of Ukraine’s, which is underfunded and poorly positioned to counter an attack from the east. According to a recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Ukraine’s armed forces use mainly Soviet-era equipment, much of which needs to be upgraded or replaced. Ukrainian air defenses are considered weak and its naval fleet is far inferior to Russia’s. Still, many experts have doubts that Russia would intervene elsewhere in Ukraine because it would be difficult for Russian forces to control more territory.
Most of modern Ukraine was absorbed by the Russian Empire in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Southern sections were acquired from the Ottoman Empire, including Crimea in 1783. Poland surrendered much of western Ukraine the next decade. By 1815, as much as 85 percent of ethnic Ukrainian territory was within the Russian Empire. Soviet victory in World War II delivered the westernmost portion of Ukraine to the Soviet Union from Poland.
A Political and Cultural Divide
Ukraine’s political split reflects a deeper cultural divide in the country. In the 2010 presidential election, the opposition won in all of Ukraine’s western provinces, where most people speak Ukrainian rather than Russian and many call for deeper economic and political ties with Europe.
About 53 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. Europe, in turn, depends on Russia for 40 percent of its imported fuel. According to Mikhail Korchemkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, a consulting firm in Pennsylvania, the most important pipelines that run through Ukraine are the ones leading to Slovakia. They will eventually take gas to Germany, Austria and Italy.