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Warning Shots Fired in Crimea

Published: March 4, 2014 (Issue # 1799)



  • Russian troops block the roadway towards military airport at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea on Feb. 28.
    Photo: Andrew Lubimov / AP

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine's border to return to their bases as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea where troops loyal to Moscow fired warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers.

The massive military exercise in western Russia involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft was supposed to wrap up anyway, so it was not clear if Putin's move was an attempt to heed the West's call to de-escalate the crisis that has put Ukraine's future on the line.

It came as Kerry was on his way to Kiev to meet with the new Ukrainian leadership that deposed a pro-Russian president, and has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership, insists it made the move in order to protect Russians living there.

On Tuesday, Russian troops who had taken control of the Belbek air base in the Crimea region fired warning shots into the air as around 300 Ukrainian soldiers, who previously manned the airfield, demanded their jobs back.

About a dozen Russian soldiers at the base warned the Ukrainians, who were marching unarmed, not to approach. They fired several warning shots into the air and said they would shoot the Ukrainians if they continued to march toward them.

The shots reflected tensions running high in the Black Sea peninsula since Russian troops ╤ estimated by Ukrainian authorities to be 16,000 strong ╤tightened their grip on the Crimea Peninsula over the weekend.

Ukraine has accused Russia of violating a bilateral agreement on conditions of Russian lease of a naval base in Crimea that restricts troops movements, but Russia has argued that it was acting within the limits set by the deal.

There was no fighting elsewhere in Crimea early on Tuesday. A supposed Russian ultimatum for two Ukrainian warships to surrender or be seized passed without action from either side, as the two ships remained anchored in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vladimir Anikin said late Monday that no ultimatum had been issued.

Early on Tuesday, the Kremlin said Putin ordered troops participating in military exercises alongside Russia's western border to return to their permanent bases. The order was in line with an earlier plan to complete the exercise early this week. The massive war games have stoked fears that the Kremlin might use the troops to seize territory in pro-Russian areas of eastern Ukraine.

In Brussels, meanwhile, the ambassadors of NATO's 28 member nations will hold a second emergency meeting on Ukraine on Tuesday after Poland, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, invoked an article calling for consultations when a nation sees its "territorial integrity, political independence or security threatened," the alliance said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has said that Russia is "on the wrong side of history" in Ukraine and its actions violate international law. Obama said the U.S. was considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate Russia, and called on Congress to work on an aid package for Ukraine.

In return, Russia's agricultural oversight agency issued a statement Tuesday declaring the reversal of its earlier decision to lift the ban on imports of U.S. pork. It said the existing U.S. system of checks don't guarantee its safety.

And Putin's economic advisor, Sergei Glazyev, said that Russia can develop financial ties with other nations to offset any potential Western sanctions.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Dec. 27


Indulge cultural and material needs simultaneously during the free classical music concert at the Galeria shopping mall in the heart of the city. Starting at 7 p.m., shoppers and mallwalkers will be able to hear the sounds of Tchaikovsky and Strauss softly lilt over the constant buzz of people bustling from store to store, trying to get their shopping done before New Year.



Sunday, Dec. 28


Prepare for the holidays at the Russian Winter New Year’s Fair on Moskovskaya Ploshchad, which concludes today after starting on Dec. 22. Games and attractions as well as numerous performances will be on offer for those looking to get into the spirit while numerous vendors will help make sure you have something for everyone on your list.



Monday, Dec. 29


Learn how the Swedes observe Christmas, or Jul, in their land of ice and snow, during aSwedish Christmas celebration at the Lermontov Children’s Library this afternoon at 4 p.m. Activities explaining and demonstrating Sweden’s cultural traditions will be accompanied by traditional dishes and sweets.



Tuesday, Dec. 30


Today is the final day of the Christmas Market at the Europolis shopping center on Polyustrovsky prospekt. Indulge your holiday sweet tooth by tucking into some gingerbread men, or attend one of the master classes that will teach you about how to make beautiful, festive decorations for your tree using only your hands.



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