Pro-Russian forces have taken control of Ukraine's navy headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to make Crimea part of Russia.
Witnesses say at least 200 unarmed members of so-called self-defense forces entered the base Wednesday and raised the Russian flag. Ukrainian service members did not resist the takeover, and were seen leaving the facility.
WATCH: Related video from VOA's Henry Ridgwell
Russian news agencies quoted sources in the Sevastopol prosecutor's office as saying the commander of Ukraine's navy, Serhiy Haiduk, had been "temporarily detained" after leaving the navy headquarters.
Later Wednesday, reports said a second naval base had been seized by pro-Russian forces.
Tuesday, a Ukrainian officer was shot dead when gunmen attacked a Ukrainian military base near Simferopol, capital of Crimea, according to news reports. A member of the peninsula's self-defense forces was reportedly also killed.
Power is blunt at UNSC meeting
Ambassador Samantha Power,
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, blasted Russia's belligerence at a Security Council meeting on Ukraine and emphasized U.S. rejection of the military intervention, calling it a "land grab."
"These actions, again, violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Russia’s own binding agreements, international law, the expressed will of most members of this Council, and the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter," she said. "... let me just emphasize again what Russia has done is wrong as a matter of law, wrong as a matter of history, wrong as a matter of policy, and dangerous. What happened in Crimea cannot be recognized as valid. We must stand together denying recognition and imposing consequences for this illegal act. In doing so, we must also be very clear that what happened in Crimea cannot be repeated in other parts of Ukraine."
Samantha Power, has equated Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula to theft, saying "a thief can steal property, but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief."
Power's comments at an emergency Security Council meeting on Ukraine Wednesday drew a sharp and immediate response from Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who shot back: "It is simply unacceptable to listen to these insults addressed to our country."
The tense exchange came at the Council's eighth emergency Ukraine session in the past three weeks. The meeting again left Churkin isolated as the lone Council diplomat defending Russia's move to annex Crimea.
Churkin also warned the United States that its public criticism of Russia's role in Crimea could jeopardize future Russian cooperation on other issues facing the 15-member Security Council.
The Russian did not elaborate. But cooperation between Washington and Moscow is key to international efforts aimed at organizing Syrian peace talks. Both governments also are involved in consultations aimed at ending the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
Churkin also accused senior U.N. human rights official Ivan Simonovic of presenting "a one-sided assessment" of the human rights situation in and near Crimea.
Moscow has sought to justify its military presence in Ukraine as a response to threats against Russian-speaking Ukrainians both in and outside the peninsula.
But Simonovic, who just completed a nine-day official visit to Ukraine, told the Council that harassment and attacks on Russian-speaking Ukrainians are "neither widespread nor systemic."
Ukraine to pull military from Crimea
Ukraine says it has drawn up plans to evacuate all of its outnumbered military personnel from the Crimean peninsula. The move, announced Wednesday, effectively surrenders military control of the territory as heavily armed pro-Russian militiamen seized a key Crimean base.
In announcing the withdrawal, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council chief, Andriy Parubiy, said Kyiv will seek United Nations support in turning the peninsula into a demilitarized zone. He also said Ukraine is planning to hold military maneuvers "with our allies." He did not elaborate, though The Associated Press reports the U.S. and U.K. will be involved.
Parubiy spoke hours after pro-Russian militiamen seized Ukrainian naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, and one day after Moscow signed a treaty with local authorities making Crimea part of Russia.
Witnesses say at least 200 unarmed self-defense forces entered the Sevastopol base Wednesday and raised the Russian flag. Ukrainian service personnel did not resist and were seen leaving the facility.
Russian news agencies quoted sources in the Sevastopol prosecutor's office as saying the commander of Ukraine's navy, Sergei Gaiduk, had been "temporarily detained" after leaving the navy headquarters.
Later Wednesday, there were reports that a second Ukrainian base had also been seized by Russian forces.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister and defense minister traveled Wednesday from Kyiv to Crimea in an attempt to defuse tensions, but were denied entry into the territory. International observers have been repeatedly turned away from the peninsula.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also was traveling to the region Wednesday. He is to meet in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Thursday, he is slated to meet in Kyiv with Ukraine's acting president and prime minister.
Thousands of Russian soldiers and pro-Russian forces have overtaken Crimea in recent weeks. The region, with a majority ethnic-Russian population voted in a referendum Sunday to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. The vote is widely seen as having been orchestrated by Moscow.
Putin on Tuesday formally moved to annex Crimea to the Russian Federation, a step harshly condemned by the West.
Referring to the referendum, Putin, in speech before lawmakers said the vote was legal and that Crimea has always been an "inalienable" part of Russia.
Putin criticized Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for placing Crimea under Ukrainian control in 1954. When Crimea ended up as part of independent Ukraine in 1991, Putin said Russia had been "plundered."
US condemns Russia for use of force
Holding Russian forces in Crimea responsible for the escalation of tensions there, the U.S. has has been blunt with Moscow.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki
"We strongly condemn Russia's use of force in Crimea. The Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces - whether they be regular uniformed troops or regulars without insignias - inflict on Ukrainian military members in Crimea," said State Department spokeswomen Jen Psaki, speaking at Wednesday's daily briefing.
Psaki said that reports of the killing of a Ukrainian military officer yesterday are particularly concerning, and "fly in the face of President Putin's claim that Russia's military intervention in Crimea has brought security to that part of Ukraine."
"Diplomacy, in our view, remains the only acceptable means of resolving this crisis," added Psaki.
Ukraine introduces visas for Russians
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, according to Parubiy.
Speaking after a meeting of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Parubiy also said Kyiv would take measures for Russian forces to leave the peninsula.
He said prospects of a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine were growing and that Russia planned to occupy Ukrainian territory and undermine presidential elections. The vote is scheduled for May 25.
The visa requirement for Russians is widely viewed as an effort to stave off the influx of Russian citizens Kyiv sees as being sent into Ukraine to foment unrest in order to destabilize the country.
Biden: Russia on ‘dark path’
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Russia is on a "dark path" to isolation with its actions in Ukraine, and that the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies.
Biden made the comments while in Lithuania, during a trip to reassure Baltic allies concerned about Russia's moves in Ukraine.
Biden met with the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia Wednesday after a visit to Poland on Tuesday. He reaffirmed the U.S. pledge to protect its NATO allies from attack.
Poland, the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are NATO members. Ukraine is not but has been a partner of the alliance.
Biden told Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Monday that the United States may rotate its forces into the region to conduct ground and naval exercises and training missions. Washington also has added more fighter jets to help patrol airspace over the Baltics.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a speech in Washington Wednesday that the crisis in Crimea is "the most serious security crisis since the end of the Cold War."
UN chief heads to Moscow, Kyiv
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon departs on Wednesday for Moscow and Kyiv, where he will hold talks with Russian and Ukrainian leaders, pushing for a peaceful resolution of the crisis over Crimea, the United Nations said.
He will meet Thursday in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other senior officials, the U.N. press office said in a statement.
Ban will travel to Kyiv Friday, where he will hold talks with top Ukrainian officials, members of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission and representatives of civil society.
“The Secretary-General has consistently called for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter,” the statement said.
It gave no further details. Key elements of the charter include respect for fellow U.N. member states' sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
No movement on OSCE monitors
Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) failed again on Wednesday to agree on sending monitors to Ukraine, raising doubts about whether a deal was possible at all.
Some diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based security watchdog spoke of the difficulty posed by Russia's effective veto of action by the 57-member group, which has a principle of consensus.
Ukraine’s government and Western countries want OSCE monitors deployed in Ukraine but talks on Wednesday at OSCE headquarters broke up again without a deal.
“This is the third time that a text has been presented to which only one state objects - and that is the Russian Federation,” U.S. Ambassador Daniel Baer told reporters.
“Meanwhile they continue to say that they understand the urgency of deploying monitors, that they support it, and so they are talking out of both sides of their mouth,” said Bear, adding that the behavior put in question Russia’s commitment to a constructive approach.
Russia, West trade barbs
Russia accused Western states of violating a pledge to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and political independence under a 1994 security assurance agreement, saying they had “indulged a coup d'etat” that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych last month.
The Foreign Ministry said actions by the United States and European Union ran counter to assurances granted by the U.S., Britain and Russia in exchange for Ukraine's commitment to give up its nuclear arsenal following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was Russia that violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which also committed the signing countries to respect Ukraine's existing borders.
Fabius said that “one of the countries that agreed to guarantee [Ukraine's] integrity, Russia, has on the contrary violated it” through its annexation of Crimea.
Kerry: Voting at the ‘butt of a gun’
Speaking before university students in Washington Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Sunday’s referendum and Crimea’s subsequent annexation by Russia, expressing disappointment over what he called President Putin's interpretation of the facts.
"And there is well-established law about countries seceding from a part of their own country - existing country, which is supposed to happen according to their constitution and their legal process… but not at the butt of a gun," said Kerry.
Kerry called Moscow's actions "dangerous," and said the United States will follow through with sanctions as a means of enforcing international standards.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kerry by phone Tuesday that U.S. sanctions on Russia are unacceptable and will have consequences.
Some information in this report was provided by Reuters.
The Crimea Region
Attention centered on Ukraine's southern Crimea region when pro-Russia gunmen seized control of key government buildings in the regional capital Simferopol. Crimea is the base of Russia's Black Sea fleet and has deep ties with Russia.
Russia and Ukraine Military Forces
Russia maintains its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine. Under earlier agreements with Ukraine, Russia is allowed to keep several thousands troops in Crimea. This graphic also compares Russia and Ukraine's over all military forces.
Russia, Ukraine and the EU
Ukraine lies between the European Union and Russia, and has ties to both. Pipelines carry Russian gas through Ukraine to the EU. Ukraine's suspension of an association agreement with the EU fueled the current unrest in Ukraine.
Russian is widely spoken in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, including in Crimea.
Ukraine's 2010 presidential election results show a divide between the largely Ukrainian speaking west and largely Russian speaking east of the country. Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner of the election, with 48.95% of the vote, compared to 45.47% for Yulia Tymoshenko.
Ukraine's Gas Pipelines
Gas travels into Ukraine from Russia and Belarus before being moved westward to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
Protests in Kyiv
Massive protests erupted in Kyiv in November, 2013. Anti-government protesters set up camps in Independence Square and seized control of government buildings. Some protests turned into violent clashes with police and counter-protesters.