Russian military drill may be lead-in to Crimea occupation and Ukraine split

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
By Paul Martin

DEBKAfile
February 26, 2014

There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there – or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran.
This peril raised its head Wednesday, Feb. 26, when pro-Russian and pro-European protesters clashed violently in the Crimean town of Simferopol, the Peninsula’s financial and highway hub.
Most of the protesters against Moscow were members of the minority Tatar community, who had gathered from around the region to demand that Crimea accept Kiev rule.
The majority population is Russian speaking and fought the Tatar demonstrators. However, rival historic claims to this strategic peninsula were in full flight, sparking red lights in Moscow to danger.
The Tatars ruled Crimea in the 18th century. If they manage to expel Russian influence from Simferopol and then the rest of the region, it would be the signal for dozens of the small peoples who make up the Russian Federation to go into separatist mode and raise the flags of mutiny. The Kremlin is therefore bound to nip the Tatar outbreak in the bud to save Russia.
And so, Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stage an urgent four-day drill to test the combat readiness of Russian military forces in central and western Russia, starting with a high alert for the military and the deployment of some units to shooting ranges.

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