Specter of Georgia looms over Crimea

One of the armed masked men who call themselves members of Ukraine's disbanded elite Berkut riot police force aims his Klashnikov rifle at a checkpoint under a Russian national (L) and Russian naval (R) flags on a highway that connect Black Sea Crimea peninsula to mainland Ukraine near the city of Armyansk, on February 28, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / VIKTOR DRACHEV)

UNITED NATIONS/SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine: Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador told the U.N. Security Council that Russian military helicopters and transport planes were entering his country and Russian armed forces seized Ukraine’s main airport.

Ukraine’s Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told reporters Friday outside the council that neither major airport in Ukraine is under national control and that the main airport was “captured by Russian armed forces.”

He said 11 Russian military helicopters had been brought in along with M-24 military transport planes.

Sergeyev said Russian “groupies” in Crimea were challenging Ukraine’s national authority.

The private Security Council meeting came hours after armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region Friday in what the new Ukrainian leadership described as an invasion by Moscow’s forces, and ousted President Viktor Yanukovich surfaced in Russia after a week on the run.

Yanukovich said Russia should use all means at its disposal to stop the chaos in Ukraine as tension rose on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Acting President Oleksander Turchinov accused Russia of open aggression and said Moscow was following a scenario similar to the one before it went to war with fellow former Soviet republic Georgia in 2008.

A day after gunmen seized the Ukrainian parliament and raised the Russian flag, a representative of Turchinov in Crimea said 13 Russian aircraft had landed on the Black Sea peninsula with 150 personnel on board each one.

More than 10 Russian military helicopters flew over Crimea and Russian servicemen blockaded a unit of the Ukrainian border guard in the port city of Sevastopol, the guard said.

A serviceman at the scene confirmed to Reuters he was from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, part of which is based in Sevastopol, and said they were there to stop the kind of protests that ousted Yanukovich in Kiev.

Some witnesses also reported seeing Russian armored personnel carriers and at least one warship on patrol.

The fleet denied its forces were involved in seizing the military airport near Sevastopol, where armed men later also occupied the runway, and a supporter described the armed group at the civilian international airport in Simferopol as Crimean militiamen. Ukraine’s commercial airline said later that it had been refused entry into Crimean airspace.

Ukraine’s top security official, Andriy Paruby, said the armed men in Crimea were taking their orders from the top in Russia.

One of the options being considered was declaring a state of emergency in Crimea, he added.

The United States warned all parties not to inflame the situation and said it had raised the issue of the reported armed takeovers of the airports with Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Moscow, which put 150,000 troops on high alert Wednesday for war games near Ukraine’s border, had told him it had no intention of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine’s new leaders should implement a political deal brokered by the European Union before Yanukovich’s ouster.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its Facebook page that Russia’s Consulate General in Crimea would hand out Russian passports to the servicemen of Ukraine’s now-disbanded Berkut riot police.

Yanukovich – who is wanted by the new, pro-Europe government for mass murder after the protesters’ deaths – reappeared in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. The new authorities in Kiev started moves to seek his extradition.

He denied he had run away, saying he had been forced to leave Kiev due to threats and and denounced “lawlessness, terror, anarchy and chaos” and said he had not ordered the shooting of demonstrators that preceeded his fall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 01, 2014, on page 1.




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