The Russians have denied their armed forces are active in Crimea, but an Associated Press reporter trailed one military convoy [of over 60 trucks] Saturday afternoon from 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Feodosia to a military airfield at Gvardeiskoe north of Simferopol, over which a Russian flag flew.
Some of the army green vehicles had Russian license plates and numbers indicating that they were from the Moscow region. Some towed mobile kitchens and what appeared to be mobile medical equipment.
Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told AP that witnesses had reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea on Friday night after apparently having crossed the Straits of Kerch, which separates Crimea from Russian territory.
"Neither the equipment, nor the paratroopers have insignia that identify them as Russian, but we have no doubt as to their allegiance," Seleznyov said.
The amphibious operation appeared to be one of the largest movements of Russian military forces since they appeared in Crimea a week ago.
Wouldn't paratroopers have Russian airborne infantry fighting vehicles in their units?
If Russia is still trying to make the technical defense that they have no army units in Crimea (other than those in their Sevastopol base) and that the 11,000 uniformed men in Crimea are local militias (with some Russian special forces and mercenaries to stiffen them but still allow Russia to deny their troops are present), then these troops spotted in trucks would more likely be Ministry of Interior troops. They are essentially army forces with "police" stenciled on their vehicles. Or scrubbed off, in this case.
With over 60 in the convoy and a couple hundred more landing--and are some of those armored?--could that be a regiment, based on those numbers? Or about 3,000 troops?
I imagine things will happen quickly once Crimea holds their referendum to leave Ukraine, and it passes (and it will pass, one way or the other, under Putin's gaze).
UPDATE: That lead convoy seems to have gone to the airport at Simferopol:
Dozens of military trucks transporting heavily armed soldiers arrived at a military airfield at Gvardeiskoe north of Simferopol on Saturday, AP news agency reported.
Licence plates and numbers indicated they were from the Moscow region, the report said.
Again with the plates and numbers detail. I continue to assume that these are Ministry of Interior troops, and so not considered part of Russia's military, allowing Putin to maintain the legalistic fiction that Russsia's "armed forces" aren't in Crimea (well, none outside their base at Sevastopol).
But by holding this central position, Russian combat troops who are in Sevastopol (9,000?) will be able to march north quickly and then reach the isthmus connecting Crimea to the mainland. And additional Russian airborne troops could be airlifted straight to the Gvardeiskoe airfield.
Russia is clearly getting poised to end the fiction that their "armed forces" aren't in Crimea after "Crimea" requests annexation and Russia grants the request.