Russia troops overrun Ukrainian air base
23 Mar 2014 - 3:25
BELBEK: Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian air base in Crimea with armoured vehicles, automatic fire and stun grenades, injuring a Ukrainian serviceman and detaining the base’s commander for talks, even as as Russia’s defiant march across the rebel peninsula rolled on despite sanctions and growing global isolation.
A Reuters reporter said armoured vehicles smashed through a wall of the compound and he heard bursts of gunfire and grenades. Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, the commander of the Belbek base, said a Ukrainian serviceman had been injured and that he himself was being taken away by the Russians for talks at an unspecified location.
Asked if he thought he would return safely, he said: “That remains to be seen. For now we are placing all our weapons in the base’s storage.”
Belbek was one of the last military facilities in Crimea still under Ukrainian control after Russia’s armed takeover and annexation of the peninsula, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and is home to one of Russia’s biggest naval bases.
Ukraine’s local defence ministry spokesman Vladislav said in a posting on Facebook that “the base has been surrounded by (Russian) special forces.” But both the local Crimean authorities and Russian defence officials remained silent throughout the raid.
The show of Russia’s unbridled might came as the chill in East-West relations intensified with a charge by Germany — a nation whose friendship Russian President Vladimir Putin had nurtured — of a Kremlin attempt to “splinter” Europe along Cold War-era lines.
Europe’s most explosive security crisis in decades will now dominate a nuclear security summit that kicks off in The Hague on Monday and will include what may prove the most difficult meeting to date between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The diplomats’ encounter will come with Russia facing the loss of its coveted seat among the G8 group of leading nations and Putin’s inner circle reeling from biting sanctions Washington unleashed for their use of force in response to last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime in Kiev.
Crimea’s rebel authorities estimate they together with Russian forces control at least half of Ukraine’s bases on the Black Sea peninsula and about a third of its functioning naval vessels.