Saturday 27 December 2014

Ukraine latest: Moscow steps up pressure on Ukraine

Published 08/03/2014 | 12:51

A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow's military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY)
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a Ukrainian military base outside the city of Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
Uniformed men believed to be Russian servicemen walk around a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
Uniformed men believed to be Russian servicemen stand guard at a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Ukrainian servicemen walk on the roof of their base as a uniformed man believed to be a Russian serviceman stands guard at a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Ukrainian serviceman look out of the gate of their military base near Sevastopol, March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Ukrainian servicemen walk on the roof of their base as uniformed men believed to be Russian servicemen (not seen in picture) stand guard at a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Moscow mounted pressure on Ukraine on Saturday, with the Russian foreign minister denouncing the new Ukrainian authorities as puppets in the hands of armed radicals.

The claim came as 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 US President Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.

While the US and the European Union 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 on Saturday that Moscow sees no sense in having a dialogue with Ukraine's new authorities because, in his view, they kowtow to radical nationalists.

Meanwhile in Crimea pro-Russia soldiers tried to take over a Ukrainian base in a tense stand-off late 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, Mr Onishchenko said.

He said 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 at about midnight.

No shots were fired in the stand-off, and no injuries were reported, but the incident reflected tensions running high on the Black Sea peninsula.

In the week since Russia seized control of Crimea, Russian troops have been neutralising and disarming Ukrainian military bases there.

Some Ukrainian units, however, have refused to give up.

Crimea's new leader has said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the region and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.

Russia, which has a major naval base in Crimea, has denied that its forces are active in Crimea, describing the troops who wear green uniforms without insignia as local "self-defence forces".

But many of the troops, who are armed with advanced heavy weaponry, are being transported by vehicles with Russian license plates.

Mr Onishchenko said the troops who assailed his base were clearly Russian.

"These were Russian servicemen specially ordered," he said.

"Their watches were set to Moscow time. They spoke with Russian accents and they didn't hide their allegiance to the Russian Federation. But they didn't have any distinguishing marks (on their uniforms). Without doubt, this was a Russian action."

Russian president Vladimir Putin said that Moscow has no intention of annexing Crimea but says its people have the right to determine the region's status in a referendum.

Press Association

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