Russian troops take over top Ukrainian marine base as world leaders gather for summit

Nato's chief in Europe warns that Moscow is amassing huge force on border with Ukraine as world leaders gather for security summit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 3:47pm

Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian marine base in the Crimean port city of Feodosia early on Monday, overrunning one of the few symbols of resistance left after Moscow wrestled the peninsula away from Kiev, defending soldiers inside said.

The Russians used stun grenades and fired automatic weapons as they charged in, a Ukrainian military official said. Ukrainian flags had been taken down from flagpoles inside the base.

Ukrainian army officer, First Lieutenant Anatoly Mozgovoy, said by phone from inside the compound that the Russians had fired shots and the Ukrainian soldiers were unarmed. Asked if the base had been taken over, he said: "Yes".

"The invading troops were using stun grenades and also firing automatic weapons. The interior of the compound is full of Russian troops," said Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea.

Russian forces had already captured part of the base, used by the 1st Separate Marine Battalion, Ukraine’s top military unit, earlier this month.

But Ukrainians had previously appeared to be in control of the armoury, the barracks and other facilities in the compound.

Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula of two million people with a narrow ethnic Russian majority, has been largely bloodless.

The development comes as Europe's biggest security crisis in decades is set to dominate a nuclear security summit that kicks off in The Hague today.

The summit will start amid warnings from Nato's top military commander that Russia has amassed a force on Ukraine's eastern border that was capable of carrying out rapid incursions into a neighbouring state.

"The Russian force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event organised by the German Marshall Fund think tank.

Breedlove said Nato was very concerned about the threat to Transnistria, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990 but has not been recognised by any UN member state.

The force that is at the border is very, very sizeable and very, very ready
Nato Commander Philip Breedlove

About 30 per cent of its half million population is ethnic Russian, which is the mother tongue of an overall majority.

Russia launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine's border 10 days ago.

US intelligence and military officials said there were now Russian troops on virtually all of the country's border with Ukraine.

Some units had moved within 50 kilometres of the border, said the officials.

Russian troops in some sectors, including near corridors from Russia to major Ukrainian cities, had been reinforced with attack airplanes and helicopters, the officials added.

Watch: Ukrainians urge unity after Russia storms Crimea base

There were also signs that the troops are receiving substantial logistical support, which could signal preparations for sustained operations, they said.

The number of Russian troops along the border was about double what it was when the Defence Ministry in Moscow announced its armed forces would hold exercises near eastern Ukraine, said the officials.

Even so, they said it was hard to assess whether the Russians were preparing for an invasion or trying to intimidate the pro-Western government in Kiev.

Russia's seizure of Crimea, which has a majority Russian population, after the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian president by mass protests has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the annexation of Crimea, the two sides exchanged sanctions, raising concern about escalation.

The Kremlin agreed on Saturday to allow international monitors into Ukraine for a six-month mission meant to cool tensions.

Leaders of the US, the European Union, China, Japan and other nations meet in The Hague, and US President Barack Obama plans to use the gathering to mobilise opposition to Russia's incursion into Crimea.

While ruling out military action, Obama has joined European leaders in warning of further consequences if Russia fails to yield.

Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by the state's Itar-Tass news agency as saying that Russia was complying with international agreements limiting the number of troops near its border with Ukraine.

Moscow's ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, also said Russia did not have any "expansionist views".

  • Britons see Russia in a more positive light than the European Union, despite recent tensions with Moscow over Ukraine.

Voters in Britain are also equally divided about whether to remain in the 28-member bloc, a subject on which Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum in 2017.

The results of the poll of 20,000 people in January were published in Rupert Murdoch's tabloid The Sun on Sunday.

The league table of 27 "liked" countries and institutions put the European Parliament sixth from bottom and the EU fourth from bottom.

Only Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea ranked below the European Parliament.

Reuters, BloombergAgence France-Presse