Ukraine’s Western-backed leader on Tuesday warned that the country’s crisis had entered a “military stage” and authorised his troops to use their arms after a Ukrainian soldier was killed in an attack on a Crimean base.
The assault, staged by masked gunmen wearing Russian military uniforms, came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty that makes Crimea a Russian territory. This followed an overwhelming number of voters in a referendum in the region on Sunday choosing to switch to Kremlin rule.
A second soldier was also wounded in the attack, which occurred on a military base in Crimea's main city of Simferopol.
According to the Ukrainian defence ministry, the base had been stormed by men "dressed in the military uniforms of servicemen of the armed forces of the Russian Federation".
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk warned that the conflict with Russia was now "shifting from a political to a military stage": "Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian military servicemen, and that is a war crime."
Regional defence ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said pro-Russian forces had by late Tuesday taken complete control of the base.
"All the servicemen inside were lined up in a row and their documents seized," he said. "They were all informed that they were under arrest."
Shortly afterward, the Ukrainian defence ministry issued an order saying, “In connection with the death of a Ukrainian serviceman...Ukrainian troops in Crimea have been allowed to use weapons to defend and protect the lives of Ukrainian servicemen.”
Up until now, forces deployed in Crimea – taken over three weeks ago by Russian forces – had been told to avoid using arms against attack.
Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchinov, said the responsibility for "the blood of Ukrainian soldiers (was on) the leadership of the Russian Federation and specifically President Putin".
Seleznyov could not immediately say how many Ukrainian soldiers had been arrested or how many pro-Russians were involved in the attack.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-18