I'm getting the feeling that the sense of calm right now is only the eye of a hurricane:
Ukrainian soldiers serving in Crimea have been authorized to use their weapons to defend themselves, according to the acting Ukrainian president's press service.
The order comes only hours after a Ukrainian serviceman was shot and killed on Tuesday at a Ukrainian base that came under attack in Crimea's main town of Simferopol and acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said the Crimean conflict has now entered a "military phase."
Crimea's self-defense forces on Wednesday stormed the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, taking possession without resistance a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to annex the region.
An Associated Press photographer witnessed several hundred self-defense forces take down the gate and make their way onto the headquarters' premises. They then raised the Russian flag on the square by the headquarters.
They also took away the head of the Ukrainian navy, Sergey Gaiduk, prompting this response from Ukraine:
Ukraine's Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov issued a 9 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) deadline for Crimea to release all hostages and stop all provocations, a statement on the presidential website said.
It warned that if all hostages, including Gaiduk, were not released by the deadline, authorities would take action of "technical and technological character," likely meaning turning off utilities.
And that, my friends, would probably mean at least the threat of a further Russian invasion of Ukraine, if not simply the real deal right off the bat.
Hopefully the Ukrainians will not give Putin his reason, but the opportunities for this to blow up into full scale war are numerous. One misstep will do it.
Oh, and this is not welcome either:
Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia's treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call inUkraine to prevent the use of Russian.
Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders, so the reference to linguistic tensions in another former Soviet republic comes at a highly sensitive moment.
Bringing that up at this moment is a thinly-veiled and deliberate threat, probably in response to Biden's visit to the Baltics today. I don't believe anything is imminent there with the Ukraine situation so explosive, but NATO should respond with more exercises in the Baltics, and perhaps a shift of some of the US EURCOM forces to permanent bases in the Baltics.