Thursday, February 27, 2014

 

Russia forces 'block Crimea airport'

Russian military forces are blockading Sevastopol airport in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, Ukraine's interior minister has said.

Ukraine's interior minister accuses Russian military of blockading Sevastopol airport in Crimea, in "armed invasion"



Armed men patrol at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on 28 February 2014
It was unclear who the men in Simferopol were - they arrived at the airport in the early hours



Arsen Avakov called their presence an "armed invasion".

Armed men also briefly took over the other main Crimean airport, Simferopol, on Friday morning.

Relations between Russia and the Ukraine have been strained since the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanokovych, who is now in Russia.

These tensions have been particularly evident in Crimea, Ukraine's only Russian-majority region.

On Thursday, pro-Russian armed men stormed the Simferopol parliament, ousted the existing cabinet and appointed a new prime minister.
Witnesses told Interfax-Ukraine news agency that around 50 men arrived at Simferopol airport carrying Russian navy flags.

The airport is said to be operating as normal.

A man called Vladimir told Reuters he was a volunteer helping the group, though he said he did not know where they came from.

"I'm with the People's Militia of Crimea. We're simple people, volunteers," he said.

"We're here at the airport to maintain order. We'll meet the planes with a nice smile - the airport is working as normal."

On Thursday, a separate group of unidentified armed men entered Crimea's parliament building by force, and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof.


Armed men patrol at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on 28 February  2014.
Despite their presence, Simferopol airport was said to be operating normally
The Crimean parliament later announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the region's autonomy on 25 May.

Recent developments in the Crimea region - which traditionally leans towards Moscow - heightened tensions with Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to monitor its borders on Thursday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called on all sides to "step back and avoid any kind of provocations" on Thursday.

The US has sought assurances from Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills to test the combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia, near the border with Ukraine earlier in the week.

Mr Kerry said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, who vowed to respect Ukraine's "territorial integrity".

Crimea - where ethnic Russians are in a majority - was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.


Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars - whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War Two - have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

Russia, along with the US, UK and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.
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