The actions of Russian naval forces in blocking Crimea’s Sevastopol Airport while other Russian forces patrol the airport in the Crimean capital of Simferopol may presage not so much a Russian invasion but an attempt to provoke civil war.
Not all Ukrainians support the revolution that overthrew the regime of president Viktor Yanukovych, but regime supporters in the eastern and southern parts of the country have been passive in their opposition. The only region where the opposition to the new regime in Kiev is fierce is Crimea, which is a majority-ethnic-Russian and lost half a dozen of its policemen in the fighting last week.
In and of itself, the actions against the airports and even the seizure of the Crimean parliament by heavy armed pro-Russian militants cannot affect the future of the region. But these provocations can turn the people of Ukraine against each other. In Crimea, ethnic Russians may turn against Ukrainians, and the Crimean Tatars who support the new government in Kiev.
If there is large-scale violence in Crimea, it could mobilize ethnic Russians in the eastern regions against the Kiev government as well. Such a development would be a tragedy for Ukraine, but it would work to the short-term benefit of the Putin regime, for which the Ukrainian revolution is a dire threat that has to be contained at any cost.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and adviser to Radio Liberty. He was the first U.S. correspondent to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War.