Ukraine Base in Crimea Under Siege 03/07 14:58
A Russian military truck broke down the gates of a Ukrainian base in the
Crimean port city of Sevastopol and is under siege by Russians on Friday, the
Interfax news agency reported. No shots have been fired.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- A Russian military truck broke down the gates of a
Ukrainian base in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol and is under siege by
Russians on Friday, the Interfax news agency reported. No shots have been fired.
About 100 Ukrainian troops are stationed at the base in Sevastopol, Interfax
reported, citing a duty officer and Ukraine's defense ministry. About 20
"attackers" threw stun grenades, the report said.
The Ukrainians barricaded themselves inside one of their barracks, and their
commander began negotiations, Interfax said.
Russia has been swept up in patriotic fervor for bringing Crimea, its old
imperial jewel, back into its territory --- as tens of thousands of people
thronged Red Square in Moscow on Friday waving flags and chanting "Crimea is
Russia!" while a parliamentary leader promised the peninsula would be welcomed
as an "equal subject" of Russia.
Crimea now belongs to Ukraine, but the local parliament has called a March
16 referendum on whether the semi-autonomous region should join Russia, a move
President Barack Obama has called a violation of international law.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
that sanctions over Russian actions in Crimea could backfire, the ministry said
in a statement. In a telephone conversation, Lavrov urged the U.S. not to take
"hasty, poorly thought-out steps that could harm Russian-U.S. relations,
especially concerning sanctions, which would unavoidably boomerang on the U.S.
itself," the statement said.
The strategic peninsula has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine,
where three months of protests sent President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to
Russia. Moscow calls the new Ukrainian government illegitimate, and has seized
control of Crimea, where it has a major naval base on the Black Sea.
Although President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia has no intention
of annexing Crimea, he insisted that its residents have the right to determine
the region's status in the referendum.
Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, made
clear Friday the country would welcome Crimea if it votes in the referendum to
join its giant neighbor. About 60 percent of Crimea's population identifies
itself as Russian.
"If the decision is made, then (Crimea) will become an absolutely equal
subject of the Russian Federation," Matvienko said during a visit from the
chairman of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov. She spoke of
mistreatment of Russian-speaking residents in Ukraine's east and south, which
has been Moscow's primary argument for possible intervention in Ukraine.
The Russian parliament is scrambling to make it easier for Crimea to join
Russia. Russia's constitution allows the country to annex territory only by an
agreement "initiated... by the given foreign government." That would entail
signing an agreement with the new authorities in Kiev, whom Moscow doesn't
New legislation would sidestep that requirement, according to members of
parliament, who initially said a new bill could be passed as soon as next week,
but have since indicated that they will wait until after the referendum.
On the other side of Red Square from the parliament building, 65,000 people
gathered at a Kremlin-organized rally in support of Crimea.
"We always knew that Russia would not abandon us," Konstantinov shouted from
the stage. He also called on Moscow not to forget other Russia-leaning regions
"We must not leave the Ukrainian people at the mercy of those Nazi bandits,"
he said, referring to the new government in Kiev.
Russian state gas company Gazprom also increased the pressure on Ukraine's
new government, which now owes $1.89 billion for Russian natural gas. Gazprom
chief executive Alexei Miller said if Ukraine doesn't pay off its debt, "there
is a risk of returning to the situation of the beginning of 2009" when Russia
cut off supplies to Europe because of a pricing dispute with Ukraine.
The new government, which is struggling to stabilize Ukraine's finances and
failing economy, got encouraging news Friday from the International Monetary
Fund, which said that economic assistance was on the way.
"I am positively impressed with the authorities' determination, sense of
responsibility and commitment to an agenda of economic reform and transparency,
Reza Moghadam, the IMF's European Department director, said in a statement
after a two-day visit. "The IMF stands ready to help the people of Ukraine."
The referendum on Crimea's status will be conducted with what Crimean
leaders have said are more than 11,000 pro-Russian forces in the region. The
troops control all access to the peninsula and have blockaded all Ukrainian
military bases that haven't yet surrendered.
Russia has denied that its forces are active in Crimea, describing the
troops who wear green uniforms without insignia as local "self-defense forces."
But many of the troops, who are armed with advanced heavy weaponry, are being
transported by vehicles with Russian license plates.
Hoping to pressure Russia to roll back its military presence, the U.S.
imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on Russians and other opponents of
the new Kiev government on Thursday. The European Union suspended talks with
Russia on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens
visa-free travel to the 28-nation bloc, a long-standing Russian objective.
With a solitary Ukrainian athlete taking part in the opening ceremony, Putin
opened the Winter Paralympics in Sochi on Friday against the backdrop of his
country's military action in Crimea.
Ukraine delivered a pointed message by sending out only a single flag-bearer
to represent the 23-strong team in the athletes' parade. The appearance of
biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko drew a roar from the capacity crowd at the Fisht
Olympic Stadium. Entering in a wheelchair with the Ukrainian flag, he wore a
The Ukrainian team had announced only a few hours earlier that it would not
boycott the games, but said it could pull out of the 10-day event if the Crimea
Crimea would be the first territory to join Russia since the breakup of the
Soviet Union in 1991. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia
after a brief 2008 war with Russia, have been recognized as independent by
Moscow, but there have been few serious moves to enable them to join Russia.
For Putin, Crimea would be a dazzling acquisition, and would help cement his
authority with a Russian citizenry that has in recent years shown signs of
restiveness and still resents the loss of the sprawling empire Moscow ruled in
In the Crimean capital, Simferopol, 75 people turned out Friday for a rally
at the local monument to 19th-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. They
spoke both Ukrainian and Russian, but waved Ukrainian flags and released white
doves into the rainy sky.
One of those at the protest was native Russian speaker Anton Romanov, who
said he opposes the occupation of Crimea by Russian troops.
"I'm against being forced to live in a different country," he said.