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Blocked by sunken Russian ships, Ukraine's navy stays defiant
by Staff Writers
Myrny, Ukraine March 09, 2014


Militants build barricade outside Ukrainian navy HQ
Sevastopol, Ukraine (AFP) March 07, 2014 - Pro-Russian militants put up a barricade of crates Friday outside the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol in southern Crimea, an AFP reporter on the scene saw.

Ukrainian soldiers "can come out if they want but if they do so we will not let them back in," said one militant, Dmitry, who identified himself as a member of a pro-Moscow "self-defence group".

The barricade had a Russian flag planted on the top and the militants wore red armbands emblazoned with the words "Russian Block" written on them.

Inside the base, unarmed Ukrainian soldiers could be seen behind the gates pacing with their hands in their pockets.

Russian forces have seized control of Crimea over the past week and pro-Moscow activists have staged numerous rallies as the local parliament makes plans to become a part of the Russian Federation.

In the port of Sevastopol, the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet for 250 years, a Russian warship could be seen moored near two Ukrainian navy ships which have also been blockaded.

Sarah Palin: nukes are best Putin containment strategy
National Harbor, United States (AFP) March 09, 2014 - Sarah Palin offered unsolicited advice Saturday to President Barack Obama on containing Russian aggression, saying "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."

The Republican former vice presidential candidate used a predominantly crass tone throughout her appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

But she hit home by attacking what she called a feckless Obama foreign policy that she said has helped embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Failing to show peace through strength has allowed some "very, very, very bad dudes (to) gain ground," said Palin, who remains a darling of the far-right.

Obama "would gut our arsenal while he allows others -- enemies -- to enrich theirs, she said.

"Mr. President, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."

The comments follow Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine last month, action which sent tensions soaring and US-Russia relations to perhaps their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

The remark may have sounded flippant, but it was red meat to conservatives mindful of similar language used by the head of the National Rifle Association, America's largest gun lobby.

In the aftermath of a December 2012 mass shooting in Connecticut, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre poured fuel on the gun control debate by saying that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Russia has deliberately sunk three of its own ships to block Ukrainian navy vessels into a lake off the Black Sea, officers say, highlighting Moscow's determination to wear down the morale of Kiev's forces in Crimea. The Ochakov -- a Soviet-era warship decommissioned in 2011 and set to be sold for scrap -- was towed to the entrance to Lake Donuzlav on Crimea's western coast from the Russian base at Sevastopol on Thursday and blown up. It capsized and, along with two smaller Russian vessels, is now blocking the narrow gap between two spits of land, its hull beaten by rough Black Sea waves. Ukraine's navy has limited resources and suffered a major blow last week when its chief Denis Berezovsky switched allegiance to the pro-Russian Crimean authorities and a new chief was appointed. But officers at a base near where the Russians sank the ship have no doubt what the Russians were trying to do and insist they will not be shaken by the tactics. "It is blocked so we cannot get out," said Captain Viktor Shmyganovsky, second-in-command at the base in Novoozerne, one of the four biggest in Crimea. "If it wasn't blocked, we could have taken our ships to Odessa and it would stop them being seized by Russian forces. We would be more powerful in alliance with ships in Odessa." Ukraine's navy headquarters is in Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet was founded under Imperial Russia 230 years ago, but is currently barricaded by pro-Russian militants. Odessa, further round the coast into Ukraine and the country's largest port, offers a safer option amid the current military situation in Crimea, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine where pro-Russian forces have seized control. - 'Loyal to Ukraine' - The Novoozerne base -- built by the Soviets in 1976 and dotted with decorative Cold War missiles and communications equipment -- flies the Ukrainian flag prominently and is protected by a handful of troops armed with Kalashnikovs. While Ukrainian officers would not disclose exactly how many men are based there, it is thought to be in the dozens. After the ships were blown up, the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet, Admiral Alexander Vitko, came to the base trying to get them to switch sides, said Shmyganovsky. "He wanted us to swear for the Russian people. Members of the navy gave an honourable answer to the admiral -- Ukraine's soldiers will remain faithful to Ukraine's people," the small, neatly-dressed officer added. "A few military helicopters and planes were sent here (after the ships were sunk) and they were trying to break down our morale." Officers at the base declined to confirm how many Ukrainian ships were currently in Lake Donuzlav, while hinting at submarine capability. But Ukraine's navy is around a tenth of the size of Russia's and suffers from "inadequate finances", according to London-based military affairs think-tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Ukraine only has one, Soviet-built submarine which it is currently trying to restore to "service condition after over a decade of inactivity," it adds. Despite the odds stacking up against them, the Ukrainian navy is determined to stand its ground to the end in this storied naval territory, said Shmyganovsky. "From history, we know that those who cannot use political means resort to weapons instead. An admiral once said Sevastopol never gives up and we can say the same about other Ukrainian navy units," he added. "As you know, no Ukrainian navy units have put down their weapons except Admiral Berezovksy. None of the others swore for the Crimean or Russian people. We're staying loyal to the Ukrainian people."

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