Unidentified armed men fired in the air as they moved into a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea on Monday in the latest confrontation since Russian military groups seized control of the Black Sea peninsula.
With diplomacy at a standstill, Russia said the United States had spurned an invitation to hold new talks on resolving the crisis, the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who said he would address the UN Security Council on Thursday, put the blame for the crisis on Russia and accused Moscow of undermining the global security system by taking control of Crimea.
Russian forces have in little more than a week taken over military installations across Crimea, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Russian territory until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954.
Pro-Russian separatists have taken control of the regional parliament, declared Crimea part of the Russian Federation and announced a referendum for Sunday to confirm this.
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President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is acting to protect the rights of ethnic Russians, who make up a majority of Crimea’s population, after Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in what Russia says was an unconstitutional coup.
On Monday, a group of about 10 unidentified armed men fired in the air at a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea, a Ukrainian defence spokesman was quoted as saying.
Ukraine’s Channel 5 television quoted Vladislav Seleznyov as saying the shooting took place at a motor pool base near Bakhchisaray. The men in two minibuses drove into the compound and demanded Ukrainian personnel there give them 10 trucks.
Earlier, Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted an unnamed Ukrainian official describing the men as Russian troops and saying none of the Ukrainians at the site was injured.
Russian forces, who have been in control of Crimea for more than a week, have not so far exchanged fire in anger with Ukrainian troops. Shots were fired over the heads of a group of Ukrainians during a standoff at a military airfield last week.
In other armed action, Russian forces took over a military hospital and a missile unit. Reuters correspondents also saw a big Russian convoy on the move just outside the port city of Sevastopol near a Ukrainian air defence base.
It comprised more than 100 vehicles, including around 20 armoured personnel carriers, plus mobile artillery.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin that Russia’s position on Ukraine remained at odds with the West, but US Secretary of State John Kerry had declined an invitation to visit Russia Monday for talks. “It is all being formulated as if there was a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.,” Lavrov told Putin.
‘Over 250 Ukrainians have gone missing since clashes last year’
Volodymyr Danyluk was a Soviet Army veteran who joined demonstrations against Ukraine’s government last year. He was 55 years old, separated from his wife and mostly out of contact with his family.
Then came the authorities’ crackdown last month in Kiev, the capital. The riot police and demonstrators clashed, scores of people were killed and the government of President Viktor F Yanukovych fell. Danyluk disappeared from sight.
In the weeks since, Ukraine’s interim authorities have allowed opposition members to search prisons, morgues and hospitals for more than 250 missing Ukrainians.
After a season of political upheaval here, a gnawing worry persists: What happened to Ukrainians who seemingly vanished in their revolution’s fast-moving tides? Were they victims of state repression and criminal activity by the police, or had some of them just drifted back to quiet lives?
In all, 661 people have been reported missing since protests began last December, according to Euromaidan S O S, a group leading efforts to find the disappeared. The fates of 272 of them remained unknown late last week.
Many people were found in prison cells or hospitals, or resurfaced on their own. NYT