Pro-Russia forces try to take over base in Crimea
By Yuras Karmanau and Dalton Bennett ,AP
March 9, 2014, 12:01 am TWN
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Moscow mounted pressure on Ukraine Saturday, with Russia's foreign minister denouncing the new Ukrainian authorities as puppets of armed radicals and pro-Russia forces in Crimea trying to flush Ukrainian soldiers out of the few military bases still under their control.
The regional parliament in Crimea has set a March 16 referendum on leaving Ukraine to join Russia, and senior lawmakers in Moscow said they would support the move, ignoring sanctions threats and warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.
The strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sent President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Russia. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow has a major naval base on the Black Sea.
While the U.S. and the EU urged Russia to engage in dialogue with new Ukrainian authorities who came to power on the wave of protests that sent President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Russia, the Kremlin has refused to do so, denouncing the change of power in Ukraine as "unconstitutional coup."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow sees no sense in having a dialogue with Ukraine's new authorities because, in his view, they kowtow to radical nationalists.
"The so-called interim government isn't independent, it depends, to our great regret, on radical nationalists who have seized power with arms," he said at a news conference. He said that nationalist groups use "intimidation and terror" to control Ukraine.
Meanwhile in Crimea, pro-Russia soldiers late Friday tried to take over a Ukrainian base in a tense standoff that lasted for several hours.
Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the base, said three dozen men wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms arrived late Friday. While one group climbed over a wall on one side of the base, another crashed a heavy military truck through the gates, Onishchenko said.
He said Saturday that they turned off power, cut telephone lines and demanded that about 100 Ukrainian troops, who barricaded themselves into one of the base buildings, surrender their weapons and swear allegiance to Russia. The invaders left around midnight.