Apparent Russian snipers opened fire on Ukrainian troops in Crimea on Tuesday, killing at least one, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin officially asked his Parliament to accept Crimea into the Russian Federation.
The coincidence of the two events was seen in the Ukrainian capital as marking a fundamental change in what had been a bloodless, if aggressive, Russian invasion, occupation and annexation of the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea.
Ukrainians, however, were convinced from Putin’s speech to the Russian Duma that the conflict could not remain cold. Many said they found some of Putin's phrasing chilling, including his statement that "We’re one nation. Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities.”
They also noted that his proclamation of respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity rings hollow when he has already invaded and taken control of one region, and has an estimated 60,000 troops massing at the shared border.
Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight champion and a leading member of Ukraine's Parliament, underscored what many Ukrainians are thinking when he addressed the Russian threat, pointedly using the words “when the Russians invade” instead of “if.”
Leading Ukrainian military analyst Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of Razumkov Center, a policy research center here, said it doesn't take an analyst to hear the threat in Putin’s words to the Duma Tuesday. He added that clearly the sanctions Europe and the United States imposed on Monday against a handful of Russian officials would not force Putin to back down.
“Every word of peace he spoke was really a word of war,” Melnyk said. “The intent of western reaction, which is to ensure we don’t see a deepening crisis in Ukraine is missing the point. The west is now in a state of war with Russia. It’s time they realized it.”
Indeed, while Putin in one breath reassured that Crimea was the extent of Russian involvement on Ukrainian territory, he also said Russia would act if it felt the need.
“Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia, those who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea," he said. "We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.”
Then he noted, “Russia will always protect its interests.”
Ukrainian analysts said that phrasing could not be seen in isolation from Putin's previous statements that the current Ukrainian government is run by “fascists from Maidan,” that “Russian speakers are in grave danger” and that Russia has a responsibility to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Added together, Putin's entire speech, many here believe, can only be seen as a threat.