Latest: Ukraine 'on the brink of disaster' as Russian troop movements prompt stand-off

Acting Prime Minister calls for international help. World leaders warn Putin as Russian troops mass

Crimea

They stood together with their arms linked: a priest, a former soldier, two housewives and a teacher, among the dozen women and men in front of a Ukrainian military base the Russian troops wanted to enter and disarm.

The siege at Perevalne was an act of symbolic defiance against overwhelming might, as the Kremlin closed in on total control of Crimea. Ukraine's acting Prime Minister described the country as being on the "brink of disaster" while his government ordered the full mobilisation of its army in response to Russian military movements across the peninsula. Meanwhile the US Secretary of State John Kerry hit out at Russia's "incredible act of aggression."

Kiev had asked its forces in Crimea, numbering around 3,500 and facing up to 30,000 better-armed Russians, not to "react to provocation". It had denied suggestions that some senior officers welcomed Moscow's intervention. But just hours later, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky, appointed in his post as head of the navy on Saturday, defected and pledged allegiance to the new  pro-Russian administration in Crimea. The Ukrainian government announced that he would be tried for treason; but it was a humiliating blow.

The troops in Perevalne, however, did not appear to be in the mood to give up. The stand-off at the base went on all day while negotiations took place, but no shots had been fired as night fell.

 

Father Ivan, the parish priest of St Mary Pakrova Savatoi, the Ukrainian Orthodox church next to the camp entrance, said: "I woke up this morning to find troops of a foreign power had come with their guns. Soldiers from here come to our church: a lot of them are very young men; we will pray for their safety.

"We will pray for these Russian boys as well to protect them from harm which may be caused because of the actions of politicians, people who do not understand the terrible things which may come from what they are doing."

Ukraine's acting Prime Minister,  Arseniy Yatsenyuk, hit out at what he called "a declaration of war by Vladimir Putin", and asked for international help. The United States and Britain, along with Russia, are co-signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which guarantees the security of Ukraine against external aggression, although legal interpretation differs on whether the threat has to involve nuclear weapons.

The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said on Facebook on Sunday night that Ukraine's leaders had seized power illegally, and he predicted their rule would end with "a new revolution".

"Russia is ready to develop multi-faceted, respectful relations with brotherly Ukraine - mutually beneficial and effective relations," he said.


"But Ukraine for us is not a group of people who, pouring blood on the Maidan [Kiev's main square], seized power in violation of the constitution and other state laws."

The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, landed in Kiev on Sunday to hold talks with the administration formed after the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych.

During a 90-minute telephone conversation a day earlier, Barack Obama had warned Mr Putin that "continued violation of international law in regards to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity will lead to greater political and economic isolation". Mr Kerry threatened to boycott the G8 summit in Sochi, and said he had discussed an array of punitive measures, including visa bans, asset freezes and trade and investment restrictions, with allied states to "go to the hilt" in isolating Russia.

Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said planning for the G8 summit should be put on hold and Moscow must be made to understand that the "military escalation must have costs".

But Moscow's march into Crimea - whose ethnic Russian majority population is expected to vote in a referendum for secession from Ukraine in a prelude to fulfilling the wish of many to be ruled by Moscow - has continued remorselessly. The main port, Sevastopol, and the capital, Simferopol, as well as main airports and transport and communications centres have been taken over by Russian forces.

Armed men in military fatigues stand near a painted Ukrainian coat of arms symbol as they block access to a Ukrainian border guards base Armed men in military fatigues stand near a painted Ukrainian coat of arms symbol as they block access to a Ukrainian border guards base (Getty Images)
The Kiev government has insisted that 10 naval ships remained armed and loyal at Sevastopol. But that was before Admiral Berezovsky appeared alongside Sergey Aksyonov, the leader of the newly established separatist Crimean administration, to say he would disregard any orders from the "self-proclaimed" government. Admiral Berezovsky had countermanded instructions to carry out a strategic withdrawal to Odessa. Two Russian warships, from the Baltic fleet, appeared offshore, in breach of bilateral agreements on military movements, as a warning to any ship captain who had decided to strike out on his own.

Read more: 'I am convinced Tymoshenko is a real heroine'
UK ministers to boycott Paralympics
Comment: Nato 'betrayal' pushing Putin to act
Editorial: restraint on all sides is necessary

Meanwhile a number of military installations, including an anti-aircraft missile base, have been taken over - seemingly without significant resistance - in the last few days. But the Ukrainian forces at Perevalne were not prepared to hand over their complement of light artillery and armour, after their adversaries arrived in four armoured carriers and 13 trucks.

As had been the case hitherto, there were no insignias on the combat outfits of the force, faces were hidden behind balaclavas. Previously the vehicles the forces had been travelling in had no number plates; now some of them bore Russian ones.

A man holds a Russian flag as armed men in military fatigues block access to a Ukrainian border guards base not far from the village of Perevalne near Simferopol A man holds a Russian flag as armed men in military fatigues block access to a Ukrainian border guards base (Getty Images)
The Ukrainians pulled up a row of tanks behind the gates to the entrance. A little later an officer, a lieutenant colonel, stepped out to hold talks with a group of Russians. On his way back to the base, he curtly said that he was "returning from negotiating with the Russian Federation".

Soon afterwards two black four-wheel-drive vehicles arrived flying flags of the Russian Unity party which has just become the governing body in Crimea. Six members of the riot police, the Berkut, who had been disbanded by the government in Kiev for their part in the killing of protesters in the capital, emerged and walked into the base.

Some among the crowd who have gathered outside were of the opinion that they had gone in to try to persuade the troops to give up. The Russian troops were professional and thorough as they secured the perimeter of the base. Those lining the route in had their Kalashnikov assault rifles loaded. Those nearer the base had unloaded the magazines into the pockets of their combat jackets.

As in other public deployments so far, they refused to answer questions, and, among themselves, the only words spoken were by non-commissioned officers repositioning some of their men.

An Autonomous Republic of Crimea and a Ukrainian flag float side by side as a man watches armed men in military fatigues An Autonomous Republic of Crimea and a Ukrainian flag float side by side as a man watches armed men in military fatigues (Getty Images)
"Why have you got your faces hidden, what are you ashamed off?" asked Jalil Ibrahimov, a member of the Tatar community, which is vehemently opposed to joining Russia. The two soldiers this was addressed to did not answer, but another man, who had come to support Moscow, Oleg Senkov, was affronted: "Why don't you wait until the referendum then you'll see how we really feel over here."

A debate between the two sides soon became heated and then angry when a group of pro-Russian men, burly, some in mismatched combat kit and boots, some had been drinking, appeared and started to hurl insults. One man, waving a Russian flag, kept shouting: "There is no Ukraine, only one big mother Russia." Another, who claimed to be a veteran of the Soviet Union's Afghan war, declared that those who opposed the Russians should be ashamed of themselves.

Viktor Kostenko was there to offer solidarity to the Ukrainian garrison. "I don't know whether that man served in Afghanistan. But I was in the old army and I am proud of that. But we are now Ukraine; you cannot go back to the past and I want us to be in a Ukraine for all the people who live here."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us