Russia preparing counter-proposals for Crimea
Russian forces strengthen control over Crimea as contentious referendum nears
A Ukrainian soldier climbs a flag pole at the base A2904 shortly before the Ukrainian command lost control over it to armed men in the Crimean town of Bakhchisaray. Photograph: Thomas Peter /Reuters
Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s pro-Russian prime minister, stands as a member of a pro-Russian self defence unit takes an oath to Crimea government in Simferopol today. Russian forces consolidated their hold on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula today, taking over a military hospital and a missile base as officials geared up for a referendum on the region’s future. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Russian troops reportedly opened fire with automatic rifles during the takeover of a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea today, Interfax news agency quoted a Ukrainian officer as saying.
The unnamed officer from the motor vehicle battalion of the Ukrainian navy said Russian troops broke into the base near the inland town of Bakhchisaray sometime after noon (Irish time), took mobile phones from the Ukrainians and began trying to remove vehicles.
None of the Ukrainian troops was hurt and the base commander was trying to negotiate an end to the action.
Further details were not immediately available.
Russian forces who have taken control of a number of military installations across the Black Sea peninsula.
The incident comes after British prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that any Russian attempt to legitimise next Sunday’s referendum in Crimea will result in further consequences, implying stronger sanctions.
Mr Cameron and Ms Merkel agreed a statement after a working dinner in Hanover last night.
In what is in essence a twin-track approach, the two leaders also said they were still working to persuade the Russians to engage with a western contact group designed to start a diplomatic process in Ukraine.
The referendum is seen as an attempt to annex Crimea, and the west as well as Turkey have condemned the referendum as unconstitutional and legally dubious.
EU leaders agreed at a heads of government summit last week to escalate sanctions if Russia did not start to engage in a diplomatic process in days; as yet there has been little sign of Russian willingness to seek a diplomatic outcome on the ground.
Russian president, Vladimir Putin, appears in telephone conversations to be emollient but does not seem prepared to carry out his verbal commitments inside Ukraine.
Downing Street said in a statement after the dinner: “They both agreed that the priority is to de-escalate the situation and to get Russia to engage in a contact group as swiftly as possible.
“They reiterated their view that the proposed referendum in Crimea would be illegal and that any attempt by Russia to legitimise the result would result in further consequences.
“They also agreed that we must keep working to support the Ukraine government, including identifying how the international community can help to stabilise the economic situation.“
The EU‘s 28 leaders agreed at their summit on Thursday that Moscow must agree to a dialogue, to be established through the contact group, with Kiev if it is to avoid a round of sanctions.
It is understood that London and Berlin fear that Mr Putin will use his current strategy - to sound reasonable in telephone conversations while Russian forces tighten their grip on Crimea - to stall any negotiations if the contact group is established. Dr Merkel and Mr Cameron are keen to let Putin know that they are not “naive“ and have clocked his strategy.