Members of pro-Russian forces and Ukraine’s military have engaged in several tense standoffs in the largely autonomous region of Crimea, but they have also avoided violence in what’s widely seen as a dangerous and uncertain situation. Diplomats are still working to find a possible solution.
Crimea’s parliament has set a date of March 16 for a public vote on seceding from Ukraine. The region’s new leader says pro-Russian forces now control all access to the region. Russia denies its forces are active in Crimea — something the U.S. State Department deride as “President Putin’s fiction.”
Here are the latest updates from Ukraine (we’ll be adding to this post all day Saturday):
A Russian military truck reportedly smashed through the gate of a Ukrainian missile-defense base in Sevastopol, the Crimean port city that is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, as Scott reported for the Two-Way Friday afternoon.
That confrontation ended without a shot being fired — and with the assaulting force leaving the scene, according to reports. Other incidents have been reported in the past 12 hours, including the capture of a border guard post by pro-Russian forces.
A Ukrainian military office in Simferopol, Crimea’s regional capital, was reportedly taken over by around 100 armed men, according to CNN. The network describes the spot:
“A CNN team that visited the scene said it appeared calm. Armed, masked men were at the entrance, and Russian flags were being painted on the gates. Those questioned declined to say what was happening inside.”
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has sent a fact-finding mission to Ukraine and Crimea at the behest of the U.N., says its members were turned away at a checkpoint in Armyans’k, Crimea, by gunmen who fired warning shots.
On Saturday, Poland pulled its consulate staff from Sevastopol.
“Because of continuing disturbances by Russian forces there, we have reluctantly evacuated our consulate,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski announced on Twitter.
Saturday night, pro-Russian forces seized a border guard outpost in eastern Crimea, Reuters reports. The news agency also says journalists who had been reporting from a naval base were told today that things had gotten more serious:
” ‘The situation is changed. Tensions are much higher now. You have to go. You can’t film here,’ said a Russian soldier carrying a heavy machine gun, his face covered except for his eyes, at a Ukrainian navy base in Novozernoye.”
Ukraine’s interim foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, said he sees signs Russia might be willing to talk.
From the BBC:
“We have not sat and talked with Russians but we managed to send our message through intermediaries,” [Deshchytsya] said in Kiev.
“Russia’s position is not categorical, they are accepting this proposal and are considering it, so, there is some hope.”
The BBC quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov backing that impression — to a point. “We are ready to continue a dialogue [with the West] on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, and without attempts to make us look like a party to the conflict. We didn’t create this crisis,” he said.
The crisis was “created artificially for purely geopolitical reasons,” Lavrov said.