UK & World News

  • 8 March 2014, 2:10

Ukraine: Armed Stand-Off At Crimea Military Post

Armed men attempted to seize a Ukrainian military post in Crimea, as Vladimir Putin said he hoped there would be no new Cold War.

It was not clear if Russian forces were involved in the attack in Sevastopol, during which no shots were fired.

However, more than 30,000 are now believed to be in Ukraine's disputed Crimea peninsula.

The estimate is nearly twice the previous figure given by Ukraine's new government in Kiev.

A spokesman for Serhiy Astakhov, head of the Ukrainian border guards, told Reuters the figure included both troops that had arrived over the last week and Russia's Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.

Around 20 pro-Russian militants stormed the missile defence airbase in two transporter trucks and entered into negotiations with the Ukrainian commander of the airbase, while soldiers guarding it locked themselves in their barracks.

Around 100 Ukrainian troops are understood to be stationed at the base, where the tense stand-off was eventually resolved.

The militants clambered back into their trucks and drove away from the scene.

Sky's Robert Nisbet, in Sevastopol, said: "A confrontation like this is worrying when tensions are so high. Any moment that involves a confrontation is a potential flashpoint."

Mr Putin's spokesman said despite the deep differences with the West over Ukraine, the Russian President hoped a common ground could be found and there would be no new Cold War.

"There still remains hope ... that some points of agreement can be found as a result of dialogue - which our partners, thank God, have not yet rejected," state-run RIA news agency quoted Dmitry Peskov as saying.

"I believe that it (a new Cold War) has not started and I would like to believe it will not start."

The Kremlin feared ethnic cleansing if those behind the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev made their way to Crimea or eastern Ukraine, Mr Peskov said.

He added calls for talks between Russia and Ukraine with the West as a mediator "make us smile".

His comments came as Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned US Secretary of State John Kerry that sanctions would "hit the United States like a boomerang".

In a conversation with Mr Kerry over the phone, Mr Lavrov also warned the US against taking "hasty and reckless steps" that could harm Russian-American relations.

US President Barack Obama has ordered sanctions on those responsible for Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine, including bans on travel to America and freezing of their US assets - although a US official said Mr Putin was not on the list of those to be sanctioned.

Moscow's forces now have complete control of Crimea, but the only troops Russia claims it has there are the 11,000 in Sevastopol - a claim ridiculed by the West.

The soldiers that have occupied key positions across the region and surrounded Ukrainian troops in their bases wear no badges on their uniforms, but drive vehicles with Russian military number plates.

Defence analyst Francis Tusa told Sky News: "Most of them seem to be in the most recent-issued Russian camouflage uniforms.

"They all look well-trained - they just don't look like a ragtag militia that's grown up out of nowhere claiming to protect homes.

"The weapons look very well looked after. They may not be wearing unit badges, but they look like regular, well-trained forces.

"I think it's very difficult to deny the impression they give."

Mr Putin has denied he is "orchestrating events" in Crimea and said he is simply responding to a request for help.

He spoke out after Moscow was warned it faces further sanctions if it fails to pull its forces out of Ukraine, as the gravest post-Cold War stand-off between the West and Russia continues.

Former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky said there was now a greater danger of shots being fired in Crimea.

He said: "Russia is encouraging the action of local forces. We are at a very dangerous point, and it threatens to push a political crisis in the direction of a military situation."

In a statement released by the Kremlin early on Friday, Mr Putin said Kiev's new authorities had imposed "absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions".

"Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law," he said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Paralympic chief Valeriy Sushkevich said his 23-strong team would compete in the Winter Paralympics in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi - but would pull out of the Games if Russian forces invaded mainland Ukraine.

Only biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko, bearing the Ukraine national flag, took part in the opening ceremony

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