Hundreds of Russian troops and pro-Moscow volunteers seized the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday, replacing the Ukrainian flag that used to fly over the base with a Russian tri-colour.
Russian soldiers allied with the so-called "self-defence" units of mainly unarmed Crimean volunteers moved in early in the morning and quickly took control of the Black Sea base without meeting resistance from the Ukrainian servicemen stationed there.
Pro-Russian forces said they had also captured the head of Ukraine’s naval forces, but FRANCE 24 could not confirm the reports.
The takeover of the naval base comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex Crimea following a Sunday referendum in which Crimean residents overwhelmingly backed joining Russia.
Ukraine to introduce visas for visiting Russians
Ukraine’s foreign ministry has been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, the country’s security chief Andriy Parubiy said on Wednesday.
Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, added that Ukraine’s government would appeal to the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarised zone and take measures for Russian forces to leave the peninsula.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
A Ukrainian serviceman and a member of a local pro-Russian self-defence brigade were killed by gunfire in Crimea on Tuesday, sparking fears the incidents could escalate tensions on the Black Sea peninsula.
Russians hailed the moves to annex Crimea while Ukraine’s new government described the Russian president as a threat to the “civilised world and international security”.
The US and Europe have said the referendum was illegitimate and moved Monday to impose new sanctions on Russia, targeting Russian and Crimean officials with visa bans and asset freezes.
Russian news agencies quoted Valery Zorkin, chairman of the Russian Constitutional Courts, telling reporters on Wednesday that the annexation treaty has been found to be valid. The treaty now only needs to be ratified by the Russian parliament.
Ukraine’s months-long political crisis hinged on whether to cast its future with the European Union and the West or with Russia. Mass protests erupted after then president Viktor Yanukovich scrapped a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia, with the unrest eventually leading to his overthrow late last month.
Russia has since refused to recognise the new pro-Western government in Ukraine.
Thousands of Russian troops occupied Crimea in the days following Yanukovich’s ouster, seizing Ukrainian military bases, blockading others, and pressuring Ukrainian soldiers to surrender their arms and leave.
Putin has said that the Russian troops were in Crimea under a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea fleet base in Crimea.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
A resident of the Crimean coastal city of Sevastopol shows his support for Russia, brandishing the flag of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (blue cross on a white background).
Russian warships can be seen everywhere in the Bay of Sevastopol.
A Russian zodiac passes near a flood barrier decorated with both Ukrainian and Russian flags. The navies from both countries have worked side by side in Sevastopol since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Two Ukrainian war ships stranded in the Bay of Sevastopol. Besides the blue and yellow colours of the flag, the Ukrainian vessels can be discerned by the letter "U" on their side.
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1989, Ukraine claimed a quarter of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Moscow now stands to regain some of the Ukrainian ships stranded in the Bay of Sevastopol.
Russian ships are visible in the background. They are blocking one of the exits out of the Bay of Sevastopol.
The silhouette of a monument built to honour the glory of the Russian Navy overlooks a part of the Bay of Sevastopol. The city bears painful memories of two bloody military sieges, during the Crimean War in 1855 and during World War Two.
Russian soldiers confidently patrol the perimeter of a base in the centre of Sevastopol, reassured by their vastly superior numbers.
A Russian soldier stands guard behind the gate of a Ukrainian military base in the centre of Simferopol, Crimea’s capital.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech supporting the annexation of Crimea was greeted by a small pro-Russian demonstration in Simferopol’s Lenin Square.
Date created : 2014-03-19