Ukraine crisis: ‘Shots fired’ as Russian troops take over Ukrainian naval base in Crimea

Fears of rising tensions ahead of 16 March Crimean referendum, which has been denounced by the US

Shots have been fired in the crisis-hit Crimean peninsula, according to the Interfax news agency, as Russian troops captured a naval post that had been blockaded by Ukrainian forces.

An unnamed Ukrainian officer was quoted as saying the men in Russian military fatigues broke into the base outside the town of Bakhchisaray at around 2pm local time (12pm GMT), opening fire with automatic rifles as they did so.

The Russians reportedly then confiscated the Ukrainian’s mobile phones, before moving on to try and remove some vehicles.

No one was harmed in the clash, the officer said, and the base commander was continuing to hold negotiations with the Russians in a bid to end the occupation.

It was believed to be one of the first incidents of a hostile takeover in Ukraine in which shots have actually been fired, and came today as Russia’s foreign ministry denounced the “lawlessness” allegedly being propagated by far-right activists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's foreign minister said his country already feels like it is almost in a state of war after Russian forces took effective control of the Crimean Peninsula. A referendum has been called there for next Sunday on whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia.

Pro-Russia sentiment is also high in Ukraine's east and there are fears Russia could seek to incorporate that area as well.

Yesterday, a pro-Russian crowd in the eastern city of Luhansk occupied the regional government headquarters, raised the Russian flag and demanded the right to hold a referendum on joining Russia, like in Crimea.

The Kremlin statement also claimed Russian citizens trying to enter Ukraine have been turned back at the border by Ukrainian officials.

 

In its statement today, the Russian Foreign Ministry said lawlessness “now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of fighters of the so-called 'Right Sector' with the full connivance” of Ukraine's new authorities.

Right Sector is a grouping of several far-right and nationalist factions. Its activists were among the most radical and confrontational of the demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and organised “self-defence” brigades for the protest camp.

In Kiev, foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsya today received his counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, who had come to show support for Ukraine in what has turned into Europe's greatest geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Read more: Bicentenary celebration of great poet Taras Shevchenko swamped by anger over Russian nationalism in Crimea
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“We have to admit that our life now is almost like... a war,” Mr Deshchytsya said. “We have to cope with an aggression that we do not understand.”

He said Ukraine is counting on help from abroad to deal with its neighbour to the east.

On Wednesday, prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will visit US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Mr Obama has warned that the 16 March vote in Crimea would violate international law. But yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he supports the referendum.

“The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula,” said Mr Putin, according to the Kremlin.

Additional reporting by AP

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