Skip to main content

Cold War-style conflict hits Ukraine's Crimea: 3 things to know

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
March 1, 2014 -- Updated 2111 GMT (0511 HKT)
  • Tensions are running high in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula
  • Russian navy has had base at the city of Sevastopol for 230 years
  • Majority of Federation Council must approve use of armed forces outside Russia

(CNN) -- It's a conflict culled from the suspicion-filled pages of the Cold War.

Russia's upper house of Parliament gives the green light for the incursion of military forces into Ukraine's volatile Crimea region.

President Vladimir Putin justifies the move as a necessary step to the protection of Russian citizens and military personnel in southern Crimea.

Ukraine's new government calls out what it calls Russia's threat on its sovereignty.

Map: A divided Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama warns of the "costs" Russia faces for its actions.

With Ukraine possibly teetering on the brink of war, here are three things you need to know about the conflict.

Ukrainian tanks are transported from their base in Perevalne, Crimea, on Wednesday, March 26. After Russian troops seized most of Ukraine's bases in Crimea, interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from the peninsula, citing Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families. Ukrainian tanks are transported from their base in Perevalne, Crimea, on Wednesday, March 26. After Russian troops seized most of Ukraine's bases in Crimea, interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from the peninsula, citing Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families.
Crisis in Ukraine
Photos: Crisis in Ukraine Photos: Crisis in Ukraine
Crimea a flashpoint in Ukraine crisis
Obama to Russia: 'There will be costs'

1. What is the Black Sea Fleet?

A justification for Russian might in the region is its claim of the need protect the Black Sea Fleet in the Ukraine.

Based in Sevastopol, the force is the smallest of the Russian navy's four fleets -- which once included some 18 submarines, two cruisers, 30 destroyers and frigates and around 100 smaller combat ships, according to Jane's International Defense Review. Many vessels are aging and in need of maintenance.

The Russian navy has had a base in Sevastopol for 230 years. The ships and subs are based just north of Turkey and can reach the Mediterranean.

The fleet has been a point of contention since 1954, when the former Soviet Union transferred the Crimea, including Sevastapol, to Ukraine, according to Jane's. In 2010, the two countries reached an agreement to permit the fleet to stay in Sevastopol until 2042.

Under the deal, Ukraine received a 30% discount on the cost of natural gas supplies from Russia, potentially saving Ukraine up to between $40 billion over a10-year period.

The fleet has allowed Moscow to exert its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans and Middle East, according to Christian Le Miere, an expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"The importance of the Mediterranean to Russia was highlighted in 2013, when, amid the civil war in Syria, Moscow declared the creation of a 'permanent task force' for the sea and bolstered its presence to 10 vessels," he wrote. "In August 2008, it was the Black Sea Fleet that provided the 13 vessels used to defeat the small Georgian navy and land troops in Abkhazia and Poti during the brief war."

2. How close is Russia to sending more troops?

According to the Russian state news agency Itar-Tass, the country's constitution requires that the Federation Council must consider and debate the use armed forces outside Russia following a request from the president. The request should contain "sound reasons" for the use of the military.

The chair of the council then sends the request to the upper house's committee on defense and security and the committee on international relations.

After the council considers the request, the president and the prime minister are invited to attend a council meeting, according to Itar-Tass. The meeting opens with a report delivered by the president or a representative.

Then, the conclusions of the council committees on defense and security and international relations are read.

A final decision on allowing the use of the armed forces outside the country must be adopted by a majority of the council members and and made formal in a resolution of the upper house, according to the news agency. The document is forwarded to the president within two days of its adoption.

3. Is there a precedent for what might unfold?

In 2008, Russia's incursion into the former Soviet republic of Georgia followed the launch of a Georgian campaign against the Russian-backed separatist territory of South Ossetia.

Russian tanks, troops and armored vehicles poured into South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian territory, Abkhazia, advancing into Georgian cities across the administrative borders within those regions.

The two sides blamed each other for starting the conflict, as well as for a wide variety of offenses leading up to and during the fighting, including ethnic cleansing.

Russia and Georgia signed a French-brokered, six-point cease-fire agreement that allowed Russian forces to establish a buffer zone inside Georgia within a few kilometers of South Ossetia.

What's going Ukraine?

Crimea: 5 things to know

Part of complete coverage on
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Donetsk's neediest line up for food handouts. There are long queues at the bus station as people try to leave town. There are no banks left open.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1025 GMT (1825 HKT)
Barking overwhelms the thud of artillery fire. An animal shelter is crammed with 1,000 dogs, many orphans of the conflict with owners who have fled or been killed.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0751 GMT (1551 HKT)
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 2258 GMT (0658 HKT)
The Commander of NATO forces in Europe says Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian troops -- all heading into Ukraine.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT)
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0000 GMT (0800 HKT)
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.