Aggression in Crimea

Ukraine warns Russia

28 February 2014 BBC Online


Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned Russia against any "military aggression" in Crimea.
He said Russia's troops from Russia's Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base in Sevastopol.
The warning comes after armed men seized Crimea's regional parliament and the government headquarters of the Russian-majority region.
The Russian flag had been raised over both buildings in Simferopol. It is not clear who the men are.
"We ask our Russian partners to provide to stick to their... obligations, we believe Russia would never intervene into Ukrainian domestic affairs and will refrain from any steps that would split Ukraine," Prime Minister designate Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the BBC.
"We are committed to having Ukraine as one united country. We will punish anyone for separatism in Ukraine with all legal and constitutional means," he added.
The warnings from Ukrainian leaders came as Russia performed a second day of military exercises, saying its fighter jets were on "combat alert".
"Constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions," Russia's defence ministry told Interfax. On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap drill to test the combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia, near the border with Ukraine. Thursday's exercises appear to be part of that drill, analysts say. The Russian foreign ministry expressed concern over what it termed "massive violations of human rights in Ukraine".
Amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "concerned about developments in Crimea" and urged Russia "not to take any action that can escalate tension". The US has warned against any military intervention by Russia. Also on Thursday, former President Viktor Yanukovych issued his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, telling Russian news agencies he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists" and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine.
The state-run Itar-Tass agency quoted an official source as saying Yanukovych would be granted "protection" by Russia, although there was no official confirmation of this.
A handful of pro-Russia demonstrators have pushed through the police cordon and are now outside the Crimean parliament.
They're cheering the occupation of the building by unidentified armed men, who entered this morning by force, hoisting a Russian flag from the roof. The protest leader proclaimed: "We've been waiting for this moment for 20 years. We want a united Russia."
This is the first big challenge for the new Ukrainian government. It has a delicate balancing act to perform in a region that straddles ethnic, political and linguistic divisions.
Against the pro-Russian majority is a sizeable ethnic Ukrainian and Tatar minority who would firmly resist any attempt at secession.
But the demonstrators outside the parliament, waving Russian flags, say illegitimate protesters seized power in Kiev and that they fully intend to do the same here in Crimea.
'Provocateurs'
The incident in Simferopol is another illustration of tensions in the region, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Crimea. One eyewitness Leonid Kazanov, who saw the armed men entering the parliament building, told local TV: "I asked one of the guys who they were. The guy, who introduced himself only as Andrey, said :'We are Russia.'" Kazanov added the attackers acted quickly and efficiently, and were well armed. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the area near the government buildings has been cordoned off to prevent "bloodshed". He added that the seizure of the buildings was the work of "provocateurs".
"Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the centre of the city," he said in a statement on his Facebook page. Regional Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohylyov told a local TV station said he would take part in talks with the gunmen and told government employees who normally work there not to come in.
They threw a flash grenade in response to questions from a journalist, AP news agency reported. Tensions have been rising in Crimea since Yanukovych was ousted last week.
On Wednesday the city saw clashes erupt between Ukrainians who support the change of government and pro-Russians.
Crimea - where ethnic Russians are in a majority - was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars - whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War II - have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.
Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Russia, along with the US, UK and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.

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