Nearly a week after Russian forces seized control of Crimea, a senior U.S. defense official told NBC News that the Russians have no intention of leaving the region.
“The Russians are now entrenched” in Crimea and have “no intention of leaving,” the official said, adding that the big question is “what will Putin do next.”
Based on U.S. intelligence and open-source reporting, U.S. officials say it’s clear that Russian forces are consolidating their early gains, taking control of additional military installations and digging in for a permanent military presence.
The officials said there was no reason to doubt reports that Russian troops took control of a Ukrainian Air Force defense base outside Sevastopol Friday without firing a shot. The Russians also scuttled one of their old military ships at the mouth of the Crimea bay, blocking the movements of any Ukrainian navy vessels.
Two Ukrainian television stations have also been shut down; one now broadcasts Russian programming.
According to defense officials, there is currently no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to invade mainland Ukraine.
“The Russians have an overwhelming force that could easily seize Ukraine,” but there are no indications they’re preparing to go that far, officials told NBC News.