Russian troops have moved into Crimea in what Moscow is calling a mission to “protect Black Sea Fleet’s positions” but which the Ukrainian government has denounced as an “armed intervention.”
The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that it had informed the Ukrainian government that armoured units from the Black Sea Fleet base near Sevastopol had entered Crimea in order to protect fleet positions.
Russian helicpoters move into Crimea
“The Ukrainian side was also passed a note regarding the movement of armoured vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which is happening in full accordance with the Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the Black Sea Fleet,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Friday afternoon.
In the same note the Russian foreign ministry said it had declined a Ukrainian request for “bilateral consultations” on events in Crimea because they are “the result of recent internal political processes in Ukraine.”
Unconfirmed reports emerged late on Friday that a convoy of armoured vehicles were moving up the Sevastopol highway toward Simferopol, the regional capital. Earlier armed men in unmarked uniforms occupied key transportation hubs in the Crimea on Friday, in what the Ukrainian government denounced as an “armed intervention” by Russian troops.
Men in unmarked camouflage uniforms occupied two airports and blocked the road between Simferopol and Sevastopol before dawn, while a Russian warship was reported to have blockaded the entrance to the bay at Balaklava, the home of the Ukrainian coast guard. Several dozen men in camouflage uniforms and carrying AK-74 assault rifles and PK 7.62 mm machine guns occupied a restaurant and patrolled the car park and forecourt of Simferopol international airport early on Friday morning.
The soldiers, who wore no identifying insignia, refused to answer questions from journalists as they strolled up and down outside the airport. The troops made no apparent attempt to interfere with the running of the airport or take over key infrastructure, contenting themselves with strolling up and down the car park at a leisurely pace, apparently, deliberately for the benefit of television cameras.
While those patrolling the car park carried assault rifles without magazines attached, belt ammunition could be seen loaded into two medium machine guns carried by sentries outside the occupied restaurant building. Some rifles carried telescopic sights and under-barrel grenade launchers.
They were backed by civilian volunteers wearing the orange and black St George’s ribbon, a symbol of Russian military prowess that has been adopted by pro-Russian activists in Crimea as an identifying mark.
“We are here for your safety,” said one man, who described himself as a member of the “people’s militia and ordered journalists away from the restaurant the troops had occupied. “If you don’t move away from this building maybe someone will throw a grenade at you,” he said. He denied he was threatening journalists, citing an incident yesterday when armed men in the regional parliament building reportedly answered shouted questions with a stun grenade.
“It is an unpredictable situation and we want to make sure everything remains calm. We are just people from this city who want to protect their families,” he said. The man refused to give his name, but said he and his group arrived at the airport at 6 AM. He refused to say who controlled his "militia" or whether they accompanied or knew the identity of the mysterious soldiers.
Meanwhile, at least 20 men wearing the uniform of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet carrying automatic riffles were reported to have surrounded a Ukrainian border guard post in the port city of Sevastopol on Friday. A serviceman who identified himself as a Black Sea Fleet officer said “we are here…so as not to have a repeat of the Maidan,” Reuters reported.