Ukraine crisis: Russians accused of occupying Crimea airports in 'military invasion'

Ukraine accuses Russian military of moving forces into region

Russian military forces have occupied an airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea near the Russian naval base in an "armed invasion", Ukraine's interior minister has said.

On a day of escalating tensions between the two countries, eight Russian military helicopters were also reportedly seen flying towards the Belbek international airport in Sevastopol, although a video purporting to show the aircrafts landing has not been verified.

Another airport, Simferopol, has also been occupied by armed men, also thought to be pro-Russia militia. Eight army trucks with Russian plates were also moving towards Simferopol, the BBC has reported.

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service said about 30 Russian marines had taken positions outside its Coast Guard base in the Sevastopol base. The interior minister, Arsen Avakov said: "I consider what has happened to be a military invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms."

In response, Russia's Black Sea Fleet has denied its forces were involved in a seizure or blockade of the airport, according to the Interfax news agency.

"No units of the Black Sea fleet were deployed in the area of Belbek nor did they take place in blockading it," a statement from the fleet's press service said.

In other developments today, France, Germany and Poland released a joint statement saying they are "very worried" by the events and urged all parties to refrain from any action endangering Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting president Olexander Turchynov signed a decree dismissing the head of the armed forces general staff, his office said on Friday. Admiral Yuriy Ilyin was only appointed at height of protests against the ousted president Viktor Yanokovych.

The Ukrainian parliament has asked the UN Security Council to discuss the escalating situation in Crimea and Mr Turchynov has called an emergency session of security chiefs to discuss the situation in Crimea.

He proposed parliament hold a vote to adopt an appeal to Russia to "respect Ukraine's territorial integrity" and "reject support for separatism in Ukraine, of any form".

The general prosecutor's office has said it will ask Russia to extradite Mr Yanukovych if it is confirmed that he is in the country. Authorities in Switzerland announced they have launched a corruption probe against him and blocked all potential assets he may have tried to hide. 

In addition, Ukraine's central bank placed a 15,000 hryvnia (1,000 euro; £820) limit on daily bank withdrawal, the BBC has reported.

Separately, dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings occupied Simferopol, the other main airport in Crimea in the early hours of this morning. A spokesman for the airport said it is operating as normal.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have become increasingly strained following the ousting of Mr Yanokovych, particularly in Crimea, Ukraine's only region with an ethnic Russian majority.

Russian state television quoted eyewitnesses saying the men arrived at the Simferopol airport in the early hours.

It was not immediately clear who the men were, as they were wearing uniforms without any insignia.

One man told the BBC: "I'm with the People's Militia of Crimea. We're simple people, volunteers.

"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, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

Ukraine's parliament elected a new government later that day, led by Mr Turchynov, who promptly pledged to prevent any national division.

Read more:
Masked men of the Crimea overshadow the Ukraine’s new dawn
Ukraine warns against 'military aggression in Crimea'
Russia 'will work with the West'

Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, it emerged yesterday, who is wanted by the new government over the violence that led to the deaths of over 80 people during three days of bloody clashes.

Mr Yanukovych declared on Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine's legitimate president.

Men carrying rifles patrol at Simferopol airport Men carrying rifles patrol at Simferopol airport The escalating conflict has sent Ukraine's finances plummeting, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package. The International Monetary Fund has said it is “ ready to respond” to Ukraine's bid for financial assistance.

Ukraine's finance ministry has estimated it needs $35 billion (£21 million) over the next two years to avoid default.

Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said on Thursday that the country's future lies in the European Union, but with friendly relations with Russia.

Mr Yatsenyuk insisted the country wouldn't accept the secession of Crimea. The Black Sea territory, he declared, “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

The events follow warnings from the interim president that any movements of Russia's troops from their Crimea naval base will be considered an act of "military aggression" yesterday, after it scrambled fighter jets to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

The exercise came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to remember that the escalating crisis "is not Rocky IV".

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia.

Additional reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
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

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities