Report: Armed men take airport in Ukraine’s Crimea
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Dozens of armed men in military uniforms seized an airport in the capital of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region early Friday, a report said.
Witnesses told the Interfax news agency that the 50 or so men were wearing the same gear as the ones who seized government buildings in the city, Simferopol, on Thursday and raised the Russian flag.
The report said the men with “Russian Navy ensigns” first surrounded the Simferopol Airport’s domestic flights terminal.
The report could not be immediately confirmed.
The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighboring Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.
Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new government.
While the government in Kiev, led by a pro-Western technocrat, pledged to prevent any national breakup, there were mixed signals in Moscow. Russia pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
WRAPUP 4-Ukraine warns Russia after gunmen seize Crimea parliament
* Armed men seize buildings in Crimea, run up Russian flag
* Acting president warns Moscow against Crimea troop moves* Russia fighters on alert, says it will defend compatriots’ rights
* Hryvnia falls to record low, IMF mission to visit Kiev
* Yanukovich said to hold news conference on Friday
By Alessandra Prentice and Alissa de Carbonnel
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea region on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, who warned Moscow not to move troops beyond the confines of its navy base on the peninsula.
Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new leadership in Kiev since President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend and provides a base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Its regional parliament, meeting in another part of the building that was apparently still occupied by the gunmen, voted to stage a referendum on “sovereignty” for Crimea.
“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine’s acting president, who warned Russia not to move personnel beyond areas permitted by treaty for those using its naval base.
“Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory will be seen by us as military aggression,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly declared it will defend the interests of its citizens in Ukraine, and on Wednesday announced war games near the border involving 150,000 troops on high alert.
Although Moscow says it will not intervene by force, its rhetoric since the removal of its ally Yanukovich has echoed the runup to its invasion of Georgia in 2008, when it sent its troops to protect two self-declared independent regions and then recognised them as independent states.
Ukraine’s leaders say they fear separatism in the Crimea.
In Washington, the White House warned Russia to avoid “provocative” acts. “We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We expect other nations to do the same,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.