KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian military truck broke down the gates of a Ukrainian base in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol and the installation is under siege by Russians yesterday, 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.