The Crimean crisis moved a step closer to all-out war today as Ukraine mobilised its armed forces and a firebrand Kremlin mouthpiece warned America to stay out of its business, declaring: ‘We could turn you to radioactive ash.’
Since a referendum called for Crimea’s annexation to Russia last night, tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world have risen faster than at any point since the stand off erupted three weeks ago.
As dawn broke this morning, the Ukrainian parliament approved the deployment of 40,000 battle-ready soldiers as it vowed to ‘defend our homeland’ from any incursion.
But with a pool of just 160,000 active frontline personel, the Ukrainian armed forces are dwarfed by a Russian army that includes more than 700,000 men and women and many more in reserve.
On guard: Members of a military special unit stand guard in front of a Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev today as Ukraine’s parliament authorised their mobilisation
Tall order: With a national guard of 20,000 troops coupled with 20,000 battle-ready reservists, the Ukrainian armed forces are dwarfed by a Russian army that includes more than 700,000 active frontline personel and many more in reserve
Tense moments: A Ukrainian self defense volunteer group line up in Kiev ready to fight in case a solution to the crisis is not found
Already tens of thousands of heavily-armed Russian troops – mostly in uniforms without identifying insignia – stand guard over swathes of Crimea as Moscow appeared to ratchet up its rhetoric, ignoring western pleas for peace.
Instead, it upped the ante when the head of its state news agency, Dmitry Kiselyov, issued a thinly-veiled threat to America on live TV, urging the superpower to stay out of the crisis or risk facing the full force of Russia’s military muscle.
Speaking against a backdrop of a nuclear mushroom cloud, Kiselyov – who was handpicked personally by president Vladimir Putin – told viewers of his popular news show: ‘Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.’
Far from warding the US and Europe off, however, his incendiary remarks only added to the situation’s trembling volatility.
This morning Barack Obama responded to Russia’s growing belligerence and imposed visa bans and asset freezes on 11 Russian and Ukrainian politicians blamed for the military incursion, in the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War.
‘We can turn you to ash’: Speaking against a backdrop of a nuclear mushroom cloud, Russian state news agency chief, Dmitry Kiselyov, issued a thinly-veiled threat to America on live TV, urging it to stay out of the crisis or risk facing the full force of Russia’s military muscle
Russian might: Armed men, believed to be Russians, march at their camp near the Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye outside Simferopol
Tensions rising: With a national guard of 20,000 troops coupled with 20,000 battle-ready reservists, the Ukrainian armed forces are dwarfed by a Russian army that includes more than 700,000 active frontline personel (pictured) and many more in reserve
Russian troops: Meanwhile, Crimea’s parliament today declared the region an independent state, after its residents voted overwhelmingly to break off from Ukraine and seek to join Russia (pictured: A Russian soldier in Crimea)
More troops: Russia is expected to face strong sanctions today from the U.S. and Europe over backing the Crimean referendum
The referendum, however, is not recognised by the West, and the United States and the European Union are preparing further sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.
The White House has dismissed the secession vote in Crimea as an illegal power grab by the former Soviet state, saying it violated both the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and urged president Putin not to follow through with threats to annex the peninsular.
And today a senior US diplomat revealed there is ‘concrete evidence’ that some ballots arrived ‘pre-marked’ in the referendum adding that other voting anomalies were also detected.
As a shot across Russia’s bows, Obama today warned that continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine would only increase Russia’s isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.