Pro-Russian activists have taken control of the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Reports in Crimea have indicated that pro-Russian forces appear to have taken control of the Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, the port city which houses Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Television footage depicted around 200 people, some armed, breaking down the gates and going in to negotiate with senior Ukrainian personnel. On the ground sources have indicated that no shots were fired during the take over however Ukrainian Navy Chief Serhiy Hayduk has reportedly been detained and the Russian flag is now flying over the base. Although officials in Kiev ordered its troops to stay in place, a number of Ukrainian servicemen were later seen leaving the base carrying their belongings. Others are believed to still be inside, refusing to surrender.
The reported takeover of the Ukrainian base came one day after Ukraine’s army indicated that a soldier had been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol. Russia also indicated that one member of the pro-Russian “self-defence” force in Crimea had also been killed. The reports however have not been independently confirmed. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned Tuesday that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.”
The latest developments in the on going crisis come one day after Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow, effectively absorbing the peninsula into Russia. Russia’s constitutional court has approved the accession treaty, and there is minimal doubt that parliament will also give its full backing. The move on Tuesday followed Sunday’s referendum, which approved Crimea’s split from Ukraine. The vote, which showed 97% of voters in favour of joining Russia, has been widely condemned by the West. The West and the Ukrainian government in Kiev have indicated that the hastily organized referendum was illegal and will not be recognized. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that the EU must send “a clear warning” to Russia, adding that the G8 group should discuss whether to expel Russia “if further steps are taken.”
The US and the EU are amongst those who have already imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine who have been accused of being involved in Moscow’s actions in Crimea. Brussels and the White House have stated that the sanctions will be expanded, with Moscow warning that this move was “unacceptable and will not remain without consequences.”
Amidst the growing tensions, Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema travelled to Crimea on Wednesday to try to defuse the tensions however they wee prevented from entering. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is heading to the region, and will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and with Ukraine’s interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.