News / Europe

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

Crimea Annexation May Threaten Anti-Nuclear Effortsi
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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Comments page of 3
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by: Jimmy billings from: home
March 22, 2014 10:11 PM
America should not forget how they took this land from the true owners. the Indians.
In Response

by: Forgivenbadboy from: California
March 23, 2014 9:05 PM
A Recent discovery of Norsemen in Arizona dating back 5,000 years (give or take a thousand) since before the Indians were here has been made,
Anybody that plays the Indians were Here 1st,
I want you to GET OFF MY LAND ! Right Now !!! ;-) lol
In Response

by: Ally from: Russ
March 23, 2014 7:44 PM
Hogan-What you good man! And why did not immediately hit the turf bomb? It's so humanely.
In Response

by: Jerzy Makarczyk from: Torono
March 23, 2014 10:56 AM
California and New Mexico too...
In Response

by: Anonymous
March 23, 2014 7:07 AM
Correct. Barack Obama mb was bullies when he was a kid. Now that he is d president, he has full power to bully such powerful and big nation, RUSSIA.
In Response

by: Hogan from: Ukraine
March 22, 2014 10:56 PM
Why not US or NATO storm Russia if they are the real allies with Ukrain?
In Response

by: GKoh from: Asia Pacific
March 22, 2014 10:46 PM
How is this relevant to the issue at hand? Are you saying you reject Putin/Kremlin's unjustified imperialist drive into Ukraine and potential other land mass? Or saying you support it??

That is the issue here my friend. We can discuss global history of all past nation's blunders and flaws on a different forum. Thanks.

by: Anonymous
March 22, 2014 8:46 PM
I must say watching the Russian Military driving through the gates of the base on TV, made Russia look like scum.

Stomping on someone elses territory and taking it over, that is being a thief. None other than "Putin"
In Response

by: Susan from: US
March 22, 2014 11:31 PM
This entire situation was provoked by the US, not Russia. What part of the Victoria Nuland audio tape of her plotting & planning the COUP & installing a new leader don't you get? Good grief. Don't you know our US Media was taken over by the Neocons & Oligarchs in Bill Clinton's 2nd term?!

by: angelina from: las vegas
March 22, 2014 7:28 PM
Not Americans but American pentagon CIA is becoming the worst disgusting thing for whole world by using new secret lethal war weapons in newly made drones against innocent human beings of this earth in near future for their dirty greed's to make slave all world with the support of some extremely immoral people in us parliament like John Boehner ,Eric cantor.many more etc Zionists are eradicating Americans gradually out of their soil by capturing all of there resources soon there will be Zionist president of USA& whole world will be the most vulnerable place to live.

by: John from: New York
March 22, 2014 6:33 PM
While the current crisis in Crimea sadly continues for the people there, let us not forget the more than two million of unemployed workers without benefits, struggling without financial means to provide for their families. Since late December, these families have been waiting for the senate to pass the Unemployment Extension Bill, that would help them survive financially while seeking employment. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has rejected the bill several times now. The latest proposal which the democrats had submitted to the senate, looks like it will again be rejected by the Republicans. This is the party that prides itself as being the party for "family values". By their actions, they have shown the world their "lack of values", family, or otherwise. These two million unemployed families have faced eviction, home foreclosures, bankruptcy, and some homelessness. For the past three month while the Republicans continued playing "party politics", these families have suffered day after day, not knowing if they will be homeless the next morning. Shame on the Republican party for their lack of common decency and compassion. How do they justify spending millions of tax payers dollars to fund corporate welfare, and foreign aid, and at the same time, deny these unemployed workers the means to afford a roof over their heads and food on their tables?
In Response

by: Tallaman from: Tallahassee
March 22, 2014 10:17 PM
Yes. It's all the Republican's fault - they have no good ideas. Keep drinking the kool-aid and continue thinking like the mindless liberal that you are.
In Response

by: Terry from: Denver
March 22, 2014 9:45 PM
I have paid thousands of dollars to ue also by my employers. Come to find out after one year the money and I quote a person with the cdle that money vanishes into thjn air no longer available to me or tracible

by: David from: Vancouver, Canada
March 22, 2014 6:14 PM
Thankful the Ukrainian military showed restraint and this situation so far has not resulted in bloodshed.

I guess now we know how a post Olympic confident Putin will behave when revolutions in the neighborhood don't lean in a favorable way for Moscow.
In Response

by: Ally from: Russ
March 23, 2014 7:54 PM
Honest and we are delighted only slightly scary, feudal lords do not like to raise Hud vassals. But they abyli that we had when the Russian revolution tore his bonds for one squanders his same good)))
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
March 22, 2014 10:52 PM
It was not a revolution. It was a coup, a riot!
The interim government is illegal!
I am glad Pitin has balls to protect Russians!

by: boatman from: united states
March 22, 2014 6:00 PM
Putin wants world war. So what are we waiting for? First strike plans have been in place for decades. Are we just going to set back until he's killed. illions like Hitler ? A EU coalition force could neutralize Russia in a week. Putin would be killing his own people if he used nukes. And he knows that. The United States and Britain. Both have the technology and ability to stop a Russian missile with in moments of launch. As well as laser systems that could strike all of Russia's silp's simultaneously. Everybody thought he was crazy but Ronald Reagan was right when he laid out the groundwork to build Star Wars. They'll never admit it (like area 51 - the stealth fighter) but its there
In Response

by: Ally from: Russ
March 23, 2014 7:59 PM
Remember - Russian do not want war!. We do not want to release what no bomb Military landfills really pray (well who is religious) or when not to press these buttons.
In Response

by: Willfred from: Canada
March 23, 2014 6:50 AM
"Putin wants world war." Are you stupid? Where you got it? Last 35 years Russian missiles and bombs didn't touch anything in the world! At the same time American missiles and bombs killed thousands of people around the world: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan...Oh! Yes, I just remind April 17, 2002, in Afghanistan US Air forces F-16 for nothing to do launch missiles into Canadian troops killing four soldiers and injuring eight others. You believe in West military technology!? Just keep in mind that on March 27, 1999, the fighter F-117 of US Air Force (Stealth) was downed by the Army of Yugoslavia, using Russian Isayev S-125 "Neva" missile system designed in 1960s. You want to fight with Russia but don't forget that that the whole US Navy controlled by Russian submarines with super high speed torpedoes (300 miles/hour) and there is no protection against. Don't forget that during "cold war" Russia really prepared to nuclear war: hundreds of nuclear bomb underground shelters with long-time living condition were built; all subways in big cities are deep underground; all communication and power systems are also underground around the country and will not be destroyed by nuclear explosions. Compare to American communication and power system which is hanging on wood poles and even strong wind can destroy it. You want to fight with Russia? Go ahead! But keep in mind that the whole world will be killed but Russian will survive.
In Response

by: Bill from: Aus
March 23, 2014 3:52 AM
(The United States and Britain. Both have the technology and ability to stop a Russian missile with in moments of launch)

Lets ask the USA and Britain were the massive Malaysian Boeing passenger plain has gone seeing as they have this technology to detect and stop a much smaller hyper powered rocket within minutes ?

And why have they not told us already, don't they care about the families involved ???

by: Ruslan from: Russia
March 22, 2014 4:44 PM
again blah-blah story. I would suggest first to visit this peninsula Crimea and just then to transmit your news to the public. who is your source and where are the truthful evidences? just rumors ...
In Response

by: Max from: Moscow
March 23, 2014 3:47 AM
To "by: America from: The United States"
You are crazy. I'd suggest you rewatch Crimea news
youtube dot com/watch?v=zoLi25S-Kv8
Where are nuclear bombs, laser missile system??? Pathetic snot )
In Response

by: America from: The United States
March 22, 2014 6:16 PM
The evidence ? That would be the Russian military occupying siren Ukrainian territory. And all the lies told by putin leading up to this. I'm ready for the bombs to br released are you? You people are fools being led by a puppet master (Putin) you do realize the United States has a nuclear force equal to or greater than Russia ? And a laser missile defense system capable of stopping Russian missiles. We would like to live in peace but if we cant we will die with our heads held high amid Russian violence. Putin is a wanna be thug

by: bryan from: USA
March 22, 2014 4:33 PM
This must be the new method that the Russians are going to retake Eastern Europe. Relocate russian citizens to the country you want to take over, become the majority in the country, and then claim you are protecting them by sending in your military. Watch out Eastern Europe, start refusing visa's to russian citizens or you will be next on Russia's "protection list".
In Response

by: Ruslan from: Russia
March 23, 2014 5:07 AM
you to say that Russia needs to learn how to behave civilized?! after your invasions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, after US dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki... you have no any right to teach and even comment on such issues
In Response

by: David Sendero del santos from: L.A. Merika
March 23, 2014 3:07 AM
What about the two thirds of the population that was born there. And the non Russian electorate that prefers an easyrt customs union to the scourge ofGreek austerity and the chains of free doom gringo style.
In Response

by: Ruslan from: Russia
March 22, 2014 5:19 PM
how primitive judgment...I would advise first to try to understand the root of the conflict and to read smith about history of Crimea and just after that to give your comments...
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
March 22, 2014 5:16 PM
Definitely Russia needs to learn how to behave civilized. Why not just send drones to take out those "terrorist" in Kiev? No ground force please!

by: Nicolas from: US
March 22, 2014 4:27 PM
This might not be a big deal to some people, but I fear this issue will continue to escalate, and before you know it, shot wills be fired leading to an even immense conflict. Russia will continue to grow bold.

by: pasquinel from: canada
March 22, 2014 3:23 PM
The USA & EU believe in Cultural Relativism. The left wing has won, they believe the more we get together the happier we'll be. Putin and everyone knows this cowardice weakness, therefore the old adage " evil prevails when good men do nothing". We will be paying the piper. The bear has woken from his winter nap...hungry. BTW it's time for Europe to step up tp the plate.
In Response

by: Ally from: RF
March 23, 2014 8:05 PM
Are you already fed up with this bear, incidentally Creed Russia - eagle (eagle-mutant))) Stop panic and take the writings of Herodotus read other ancient authors, even they mention Slavs and talked about them horoshee.Ne be war if Russia will not attack.
In Response

by: Wwift
March 22, 2014 4:17 PM
Drama much?
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