Pro-Russia militia fire warning shots at Crimea foreign observers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 6:22am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 6:22am

Warning shots were fired to prevent an unarmed international military observer mission entering Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea yesterday, as new confrontations between Russian and Ukrainian troops raised tension ever higher.

The dangerous escalation in the flashpoint Black Sea peninsula that Russia effectively seized from Ukraine last week saw 40 gunmen in balaclavas and military fatigues fire warning shots above a car moving in front of a convoy of 57 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The monitoring mission is an instrumental part of a three-pronged push for peace by US President Barack Obama that also includes a call on Russia to pull back its Crimean troops. They had been turned back twice before, but this was the first time shots were fired.

Overnight, Russian troops drove a truck into a missile defence post in Sevastopol and took control of it. Russian troops had also seized a border guard outpost in the east of the peninsula overnight, kicking the Ukrainian officers and their families out of their apartments.

In Moscow, Ukraine's ambassador to Russia and a deputy Russian foreign minister held a "frank" meeting yesterday, without giving details of any discussion.

Envoy Vladimir Yelchenko met deputy minister Grigory Karasin, the Russian foreign ministry said, and "issues of Russo-Ukrainian relations were discussed in a frank atmosphere".

While the US and the EU have urged Russia to talk with the new Ukrainian authorities, the Kremlin had refused until yesterday.

In Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged all parties to keep in mind the fundamental interests of all ethnic communities in Ukraine, and of regional peace and stability.

Additional reporting by Associated Press