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March 22, 2014

Russian Forces Seize VOA Cameras

by VOA News

Russian troops in Crimea have seized cameras belonging to the Voice of America near the Belbek military base, where Ukrainian troops were ordered to surrender Saturday by Russian forces.

VOA reporter Daniel Schearf said he and his crew were videotaping Russian armored personnel carriers and other vehicles outside the base when two cameras were seized.

He said Russian soldiers jumped out of their vehicles like a "swat team" and ordered the VOA crew at gunpoint to give up the cameras. He said the soldiers were "very aggressive and very rude," but were under orders to stop media from capturing images of the Russian military outside the base.

Russian forces issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian troops to vacate the base, one of the largest holdouts of Ukrainian military forces in Crimea.

"They were clearly under orders to stop any media from videotaping, from getting any images of what they were doing outside the base, and the reason for that became apparent later when we saw that the Russian military had issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian side, to the Ukrainian soldiers and the commander we had interviewed earlier in the day, that they are to vacate the base. And so they're putting intense pressure now coming down to the wire. Moscow wants to get them out of here," he said.

Schearf said he was uncertain whether Russian forces gave the Ukrainians a deadline to vacate the Belbek base. But he said if the Ukrainian troops do not leave, Russian soldiers will eventually "make a move" on the facility, which is near the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol.

"Sooner or later whether the Ukrainian soldiers like it or not, the Russians are going to make a move and the Ukrainian side has said very clearly that they are not going to leave. They are going to remain loyal to their post until they receive orders otherwise, and they are armed, they do have weapons inside of course. It's a military base, so there is that potential that this could really get out of control, that an armed conflict could take place," he said.

Schearf said Russian troops had promised to return the cameras they seized Saturday, but several hours later the cameras had not been given back. He said all of the video recorded on the cameras will likely be erased.