Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

Hundreds of gunmen surround Ukraine military base

By David Mchugh, Associated Press

Published: Sun, March 2 9:11 a.m. MST

 Ukrainian soldiers, left and unidentified gunmen, right, guard the gate of  an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine's infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it.

Ukrainian soldiers, left and unidentified gunmen, right, guard the gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine's infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it.

(Darko Vojinovic, Associated Press)

PEREVALNE, Ukraine — As hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on Sunday, world leaders and Ukraine's new prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia's military incursion into Ukraine "an incredible act of aggression" — comments that came a day after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine without firing a shot.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said there was no reason for Russia to invade Ukraine and warned that "we are on the brink of disaster."

But so far, his new government and other countries have been powerless to react to Russian military tactics. Armed men in uniforms without insignia have moved freely about the peninsula, occupying airports, smashing equipment at an air base and besieging a Ukrainian infantry base.

Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.

Russia has long wanted to reclaim the lush Crimean Peninsula, which was part of Russia until 1954. It's Black Sea Fleet is stationed there and nearly 60 percent of Crimea's residents identify themselves as Russian.

Ukraine's population of 46 million has divided loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU, while eastern and southern regions like Crimea look to Russia for support.

Unidentified troops pulled up to the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne on the Crimean Peninsula in a convoy that included at least 13 trucks and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian license plates.

A dozen Ukrainian soldiers, some with clips in their rifles, placed a tank at the base's gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine's armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression." He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

But the U.S. and other Western governments have few options to counter Russia's military moves.

In Brussels, NATO's secretary general said Russia had violated the U.N. charter with its military action in Ukraine, and he urged Moscow to "de-escalate the tensions." NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke before a meeting Sunday of the alliance's political decision-making body to discuss the crisis.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense. But Ukraine has taken part in some alliance military exercises and contributed troops to its response force.

Kerry, interviewed on Sunday news shows in the U.S., raised the possibility of boycotting the G-8 summit, which is to be held in June in Sochi, the Russia resort that just hosted the Winter Olympics. He also discussed visa bans, asset freezes, and trade and investment penalties. Kerry said he spoke with foreign ministers for G-8 and other nations on Saturday, and says everyone is prepared 'to go to the hilt" to isolate Russia.

President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes Saturday and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said. Obama warned that Russia's "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."

In Moscow, thousands marched Sunday in a pro-invasion rally one day after Russia's parliament gave Putin a green light to use military force in Ukraine. At least 10,000 people bearing Russian flags marched freely through the city, while dozens of people demonstrating on Red Square against an invasion of Ukraine were quickly detained by Russian riot police.

The new Ukrainian government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union. Yanukovych fled to Russia after more than 80 people died, most of them demonstrators killed by police. He insists he's still president.

Since then, tensions have risen sharply between the two capitals.

The Interfax news agency reported the speaker of Crimea's legislature, Vladimir Konstantinov, as saying the local authorities did not recognize the government in Kiev. He said a planned referendum on March 30 would ask voters about the region's future status.

The White House said the U.S. will suspend participation in preparatory meetings for the Group of Eight economic summit planned.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe 1 radio that planning for the summit should be put on hold. France "condemns the Russian military escalation" in Ukraine, and Moscow must "realize that decisions have costs," he said Sunday.

"We are on a very dangerous track of increasing tensions," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. "(But) "it is still possible to turn around. A new division of Europe can still be prevented."

McHugh reported from Kiev, Ukraine. AP correspondent Greg Keller contributed from Paris.

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1. PLM
Kaysville, UT,
March 2, 2014

Apparently Ukraine has only a skeletal military, incapable of defending itself against Putin's aggressive move. Did our Secretary of Defense just talk about down-sizing the U.S military? Into whose hand is our government trying to deliver us? I can't believe the powers in Washington are attempting to disarm us as the world situation continues to crumble. Gun control and an weakened military; I always wondered why the U.S. wouldn't or couldn't step up at the end to help Israel. Who gave Putin Hitler's play book?

2. mcdugall
Murray, UT,
March 2, 2014

@PLM - Are you really making a comparison of Ukrainian Military to the US Military? The reduction is primarily an Army troop reduction, which was bound to happen anyway. There is a very large increase in funding for specialized weapons systems, special operations, and cyberwarefare capabilities. This is a very strategic move, the large standing armies of the past will be less effective than a highly trained and technologically advanced military.

3. UtahBlueDevil
Durham, NC,
March 2, 2014

Yes… despite the fact that the US military is 6x as large as Russia's, our military is just like the Ukrainian forces….. just like them. "Into whose hand is our government trying to deliver us?" … umm… I think the answer to that would be no ones.

"I always wondered why the U.S. wouldn't or couldn't step up at the end to help Israel."

Care to expand on this? In what ways has the US, ever, Now or in the past, refused to back the Israeli military. I hear this rhetoric, but would love to see one example of when the US, in time of need, refused to back Israel. Who the heck do you think funds and provides a good portion of the resources to Israel? What, because we will not go to pre-emptive war with Iran, send our fathers and brothers to die…. in a foreign land…. before there is an actual threat, we are failing to support them…. really? Our stance hasn't changed under Obama, nor did it under Bush, or Clinton, or Bush, or Reagan, or even Carter…. or anyone before these men.

Good grief!

4. Mountanman
Hayden, ID,
March 3, 2014

Remember the missile defense system in Poland? Putin has invaded Ukraine, what if it were there today? Col North: “The missile defense system that the Obama administration shut down, carefully negotiated over years by the Bush administration, protecting not just us in the homeland, but our European allies.”
Why would Obama do that if not in league with Putin?

5. UtahBlueDevil
Durham, NC,
March 3, 2014

Moutainman.... ou kidding right...... if these missiles were in Poland, then what? What difference do you really think they would have made? Your going to shoot them at who? We already have a military 6x bigger than Russia. Nato pushes that number even further northward.

Are you proposing we should have fired missiles at Russia..... is that what your proposing?

Putin tried to buy Ukraine for 15 billion. That attempt failed, resulting in the ejection of the then current Ukrainian president. Putin will eventually have to back off... just like he did in Georgia.