THE SELF-STYLED Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov yesterday warned Russia against any ‘military aggression’ in Crimea.
He said Russia’s troops from its Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base in Sevastopol.
Russia, which has a substantial military presence at its leased naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Sevastopol, has insisted it will not interfere in its neighbour’s affairs, while at the same time voicing worries about possible discrimination against ethnic Russians in the country.
About half of Crimea’s population identifies as ethnic Russian.
Turchynov appealed to Russian Black Sea servicemen to refrain from leaving their quarters, apparently echoing wider US and EU concern that Moscow may choose to throw its weight behind pro-Russian groups in Crimea who are defying the illegal authorities in Kiev.
‘Any movement, particularly with weapons, outside official residences regulated by our agreement will be interpreted by us as military aggression,’ Turchynov said.
Russia maintains thousands of military personnel at bases in Sevastopol that it rents from Ukraine.
Eyewitnesses in central Sevastopol reported seeing Russian armoured personnel carriers on Tuesday and there have been other unconfirmed reports of Russian troop movements around the city since the weekend.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry did not deny the reports about its heightened military activity in the region, but claimed that any movement of its troops was made in accordance with pre-existing military agreements with Kiev.
‘Movement of individual armoured vehicles of the Black Sea Fleet was conducted in full accordance with basic agreements and did not require any approvals,’ the ministry statement said.
In recent days, a series of pro-Russian demonstrations have taken place across Crimea. Protesters have said at those gatherings that they do not recognise the current illegal government in Kiev and have called for Russian intervention.
The warning comes after armed men seized Crimea’s regional parliament and the government headquarters of the Russian-majority region.
Viktor Yanukovich who still considers himself the legitimate leader of Ukraine, has warned against an internal military conflict.
He said yesterday: ‘I’m forced to ask the Russian authorities to ensure my personal security against the actions of extremists.’
He added that he hadn’t ordered the Ukrainian army to interfere in the internal political events, and he doesn’t order it now.