Russia preparing counter-proposals for Crimea

Russian forces strengthen control over Crimea as contentious referendum nears


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.

Elswhere 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.

Interfax Ukraine news agency said pro-Russian militias and Russian troops had seized the hospital in Simferopol, the peninsula‘s main administrative city, and herded staff into a hall to “apparently meet the institutions‘ s new directors.“ It said 20 patients in the building were seriously ill.

In the port of Sevastopol, Russian soldiers disarmed servicemen at a Ukrainian army missile base, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea said.

Vladislav Seleznyov told Fifth Channel television that about 200 soldiers aboard 14 trucks moved on the building at about 1.30 a.m(1130 GMT) and threatened to storm it if the Ukrainian soldiers failed to give up their weapons.

Meanwhile Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk will address the United Nations Security Council about the situation in Crimea on Thursday, Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted him as saying today.

Interfax also quoted him as telling reporters that he believed Russia, whose forces are in control of Ukraine‘s Crimea peninsula, sought to “undermine the foundations of global security and revise the outcome of World War Two.“

Russia’s foreign ministry said today it was outraged by lawlessness in eastern Ukraine, blaming the far-right paramilitary movement Right Sector for “conniving” with the new government in Kiev.

In its latest salvo in a propaganda war over Ukraine, in which the United States has issued a list of what it calls 10 false claims by president Vladimir Putin, Russia accused the West of being silent over violence and detentions taking place there against Russian compatriots.

The ministry said in a statement masked men had opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in the eastern city of Kharkiv on March 8th, wounding some.

It also said seven Russian journalists had been detained in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk, suggesting the new leaders and their Western allies were not committed to media freedoms.

Last week Crimea‘s pro-Moscow parliament voted to stage a March 16th referendum to determine whether the region should be annexed by Russia.

US president Barack Obama began a new week of diplomatic consultations on the Ukraine crisis with a phone call to Chinese president Xi Jinping that focused on a peaceful solution to Russia‘s military intervention.

Mr Obama, who is to meet Mr Yatsenyuk at the White House on Wednesday, is seeking ways to pressure Russian president Vladimir Putin to loosen Russia‘s grip on the Crimea region of southern Ukraine.

The White House said more international pressure on Russia would result if the Crimea vote proceeded. “If there is an annexation of Crimea, a referendum that moves Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, we won‘t recognize it, nor will most of the world,“ deputy White House national security adviser Tony Blinken told CNN.


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