News / Europe

With Ukraine Base Seizures, Russia Moves to Consolidate Control of Crimea

Crimea Annexation May Threaten Anti-Nuclear Effortsi
X
Kent Klein
March 22, 2014 10:01 PM
Ukraine handed over its former Soviet nuclear arsenal to Russia in the 1990s. Now, as VOA's Kent Klein reports, some experts are asking whether Russia's maneuvers in Ukraine might undermine efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
VIDEO: Ukraine handed over its former Soviet nuclear arsenal to Russia in the 1990s. Now, as VOA's Kent Klein reports, some experts are asking whether Russia's maneuvers in Ukraine might undermine efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
Daniel SchearfSteve Herman
Russian flags are flying over more Ukrainian military bases in Crimea on Sunday.

Russian soldiers and militiamen stormed a Ukrainian air force base in Crimea on Saturday, firing shots and smashing through gates and walls with armored vehicles, ending a lengthy standoff with Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian troops had been resisting Russian pressure to surrender arms and vacate Belbek airbase after Moscow officially declared the annexation of Crimea on Friday, following a controversial referendum.

Ukraine and Russia had agreed to a truce on military actions with a Friday deadline; Kyiv had agreed to withdraw all military forces from Crimea, but Russia apparently preferred to take action.

Russian soldiers without insignias broke into Belbek airbase facing no apparent resistance from Ukrainian troops, many of whom turned their backs on the Russian forces and sang the Ukrainian national anthem as events unfolded.

For days, Ukrainian soldiers at Belbek had refused to abandon their posts, saying they had received no orders from the interim government in Kyiv.

Ukrainian defense officials say at least one Ukrainian soldier was wounded in the siege. Some reporters and cameramen covering the takeover were roughed up by Russian solders and had their equipment seized, including those working for VOA.

Belbek is the last major military holdout against the Russian takeover of Crimea, as most Ukrainian defenses across the peninsula had already been overrun, with many troops vacating their posts or joining up with Russian forces.

The siege followed an ultimatum issued by Russian forces earlier in the day that called for Ukrainian troops at the base to surrender. Belbek also shares facilities with the international airport in Sevastopol, where Russia has a large naval base.

Just hours before the raid, the commander of the base, Colonel Yuliy Manchur, told VOA that he and his troops would never join the Russian military.

Russian soldiers later took him away for questioning.

In the evening, Russian soldiers and pro-Russian militiamen stormed Ukraine's last navy ship in Sevastopol bay. Also on Saturday, a pro-Russian crowd tried to storm a Ukrainian naval base in Novofedorovka; Ukrainians responded with smoke bombs, but it is not clear if the mob took over the base.

Russia's seizure of Ukrainian military bases and warships in Crimea comes as officials in the Kremlin finalize the country's annexation of the strategic peninsula. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday that recognizes his parliament's approval of a referendum by Crimeans on breaking away from Ukraine.

With Russia's takeover of the peninsula nearly complete, some western diplomats are converging on Kyiv, where, a day after the interim government leaders signed a political alignment pact with the European Union, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir accused Russian of attempting once again to divide Europe between East and West.

“It contradicts what we have experienced for decades," Steinmeir said. "We cannot accept this situation, cannot allow bloodshed again.”

Moscow, which denies its soldiers are involved, says its actions in Crimea are necessary to protect ethnic Russians from persecution by a fascist government in Kyiv. Though some right-wing nationalists are involved in the interim leadership, there is more evidence of attacks on Ukrainians by those loyal to Moscow.

OSCE mission

Russia's Foreign Ministry has expressed hope that a Friday decision to deploy civilian monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will reduce tensions in the region. However, the ministry rejects any talk of the monitors entering the recently annexed peninsula.

OSCE says up to 500 monitors will gather information on the security situation in Ukraine, including human rights.

U.S. chief envoy to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, says the mission should have access to Crimea because the rest of the world still recognizes it as Ukrainian territory.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain and its allies must now prepare for different relations with Russia than what they have enjoyed over the last 20 years.

Hague said this would include restricting military cooperation and arms sales to Russia and having Russia outside some international organizations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who arrived in Kyiv Saturday — the first G7 leader to visit Yatsenyuk in Ukraine — said Canadians are impressed by the restraint Ukraine is showing despite what he calls Russia's "obvious provocations."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Ukraine's new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk for his "real leadership" on the second day of a visit to Ukraine. Ban also said he admired the prime minister's call for "inclusiveness and reconciliation" at a time when many Ukrainian citizens are angry and frustrated about developments in their country.

During his stop in Kyiv, Ban also said direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow is critical to reducing current tensions.

Donetsk demonstration

However, there is no indication of that occurring any time soon.

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Saturday, thousands took to the streets to demand a chance to hold their own referendum on whether to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

Among those in the region who want to keep Ukrainian sovereignty, there are fears that at any time the Russian military could move across the border and occupy Ukrainian territory, as it did in Crimea.

According to some Kyiv-based officials, Ukraine is losing not only territory to Russia, but its eastward-dependent trade relationship with Moscow.

The interim government is moving quickly to work on a trade agreement with the European Union to transform Ukraine's economy, which has been hobbled by decades of corruption and political upheaval.

If such a pact with the EU is to become a reality, Ukraine’s commissioner for European integration, Valery Pyatnytsky, says there is a need for action on comprehensive economic changes, not just more promises from the country’s political leaders.

“Not to declare the fight with corruption, not to declare the rules of law, not to declare the other values with European Union," Pyatnytsky said. "Not to declare [what] we would like to be, but to be."

Ukraine's 45 million residents live on rich agricultural land that is also home to a large industrial base, yet the nation is considered the poorest in Eastern Europe.

Obama to G7

The U.S. says no one in the international community will recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

White House officials say the situation in Ukraine will be "front and center" during President Barack Obama's trip to Europe in the coming week, during which he will attend a G-7 summit in The Hague — a meeting that probably would have included Russia as an eighth member.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice told reporters Friday that the common theme to the president's trip is the fundamental strength of U.S. partnerships and alliances, including NATO, the European Union and the G7.

Rice said Ukraine and the Russian takeover of Crimea are prompting a fundamental reassessment of U.S.-Russian relations. She said the world will clearly see that Russia is more and more isolated.

Also on President Obama's European schedule is a nuclear security summit with more than 50 other countries, including Russia.

Rice says the United States has every interest in continuing to cooperate with Russia on this issue, which she calls a pillar of the Obama national security policy — making it harder for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials.

Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, who has called for more U.S. aid to Ukraine, is leading a congressional delegation on a visit to Kiyv Sunday.

Daniel Schearf contributed to this report from Sevastopol, Crimea.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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by: Ekaterina from: Russia Moscow
March 24, 2014 7:57 AM
People, I try to understand - you really think, what we are going to win the World? Akhkhakhakh! It is simply ridiculous! Your lands, your buildings aren't necessary for us any. Russia the huge country and the Crimea was Russian so long ago. Meda whom we determine in ancient times by the Black Sea, called Russian the sea, therefore. that there lived Cossacks, which also Slavs and Russians (though separate group). Whether the Russian wars want? - You ask silence, you ask those soldiers who under birches lie, and you will be answered by their sons - whether the Russian wars want. Not only for the country Soldiers were lost during that war, Also it is people of all earth I could sleep peacefully at night.
In Response

by: Richard from: Wash DC
March 25, 2014 1:32 PM
Thank you for that largely incoherent rambling dialogue. Why do Russian soldiers not wear tier uniforms? Are they afraid or ashamed of what they are doing? Yes, I think they are. Why all the sneaking around? Why harass news reporters and forbid Ukrainian news from being broadcast. Are people so stupid in Crimea they can';t think for themselves or does Moscow want to be the only voice? Why aren't international observers let in? Why so secret? If something is so good, don't you want to advertise it? Show everything that is going on. Russia is a land of cynical thugs and the poor fools who believe then when they say right is wrong, up is down, left is right...

by: fewaz from: Brodnu
March 23, 2014 6:54 AM
USA and EU are not a top power in this world. Russia and China are more powerful. Soon,dollar and euro will fall and Americans and Europeans will find jobs in Asia.

by: Haron from: Afghanistan
March 23, 2014 5:25 AM
as an Afghan young boy. I say people around the world are bored by the name of Democracy if there is no food, no humans facility like oil (gas, petroleum, and diesel) agriculture finally we can say natural resources. today technology or freedom of speech does not have any beneficiary instead of a blissful family where I mentioned the benefits.

today people around the world call equalization (socialism) by one voice that every people must have equal rights. I think not only Crimea. but, I am sure most of the country (outside the Asia) may call on Russia as an ally or joining to the Russia territory (inside the Asia).

today we watch in France that 3 million people are sleeping by starve billies [stomach] every night. there is also democracy, freedom of speech and technology.

those countries are the winner who have good agriculture, gad, and oil exporter. and every country are welcome this country as an ally.

by: Cannoliamo from: America
March 22, 2014 11:41 PM
What's wrong with these Ukrainian sailors? I would have left the ship, waited for the Russians to board and then blown it up using a timer or remote control right in their port.
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
March 23, 2014 11:18 PM
Because those Ukrainian sailors know they are not welcome in Crimea, and they know their interim government is illegal, they feel shamed and don't want to shed blood for this illegal government!
West media can lie about what happened in ukrain, but can't change the facts,
In Response

by: Ally from: RF
March 23, 2014 7:31 PM
you watch too many movies or you fourteen years.

by: GKoh from: Asia Pacific
March 22, 2014 10:40 PM
This is merely a tactical retreat. Nothing to fear or get hysterical over in the greater scheme of historical events... What should be Kiev's main drive now and NATO's advocacy however, is for the expedited push and prompt (free) return/transportation of Ukrainian Navy ships, assets and all other military hardware currently in Crimea, back to Ukrainian hands (bases in Ukraine proper). If that is blocked, then further legitimate sanctions should be processed.

by: Susan from: US
March 22, 2014 10:36 PM
If Ukraine forces were withdrawing, then why didn't the Air Force withdraw? Isn't it amazing they got no orders from Kiev? What's that all about?

Hopefully, the Crimean "Self-Defense" group of men will educate and enlighten them, so they will have a choice to stay or go with a clear knowledge. Once they hear the US Victorian Nuland audio tape planning & plotting the COUP, then, they will realize what really happened.

Russia did not "take over" this base. The Ukrainians were on Russian soil at this point. They are probably not ethnically Russians, but they are fools not to join, imo. Why?

Because they will be faced with a lifetime of misery & poverty as the EU rapes & pillages their lands and resources, and funnels the money to pay off the neo-nazi's & the acting president for their direct US support of the COUP. Austerity will come, whether they like it or not, and they will see their pensions cut by 50%. I hope they change their minds...

The hypocrisy of the US is sickening. It's ok by them to ok Kosovo but not Crimea? When 95% Crimeans voted to join Russia? And, celebrated with fireworks afterwards? There was not one shot fired. Give me a friggin break. Since George Soros & the US/UK banking cartels own the Media, what else would you expect from this article!
In Response

by: Ally from: Russ
March 23, 2014 7:41 PM
Many times I was in Ukraine and there is not much sense styuped.I people can understand the power of twenty-three years fooling them head
. Lot of money and propaganda of the West. This is a dangerous situation I'm sorry Ukrainians. with Crimea's complicated, people need to be protected and we are glad that there is no such bloody street fighting, but it is a heavy burden for Russia, very sorry for all of our brothers, all our people - we are all the time trying to make slaves, I know the people of America that does not can do, and not even enough s an motives, but we must try to do the World. For our descendants.

by: Bob from: Baltimore
March 22, 2014 10:36 PM
This article does not cover that russian troops put civilians in front of them so Ukrainian soldiers could not fire. That's why one base falls after another.

by: rdu from: Raleigh
March 22, 2014 10:32 PM
I guess we should re-think the USA Shuttle Program given our national security dependency on Russia's Space Program.

by: Fred from: Arizona
March 22, 2014 10:18 PM
How come no one commenting on this article can spell?

by: Ed. McConnell from: Spokane Valley!
March 22, 2014 10:13 PM
I don't have much faith in a President that is a failure at every turn.
In Response

by: Tyronne from: Minnesota
March 22, 2014 10:36 PM
It is you who failed to stay a hidden racist!
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