Russian forces tightened their grip on Crimea today (Sunday) despite the warning to Moscow by the United States the annexation of the southern Ukrainian region would close the door to diplomacy. Russia’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula has been bloodless up t now, but tensions are mounting following a decision by certain pro-Russian factions that have taken over the regional parliament to make the Crimea part of Russia.
According to the report by Reuters, in its latest armed action, Russia took over a border post on the western edge of Crimea at around 6 a.m. (0400) GMT, which trapped about 30 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman reported. President Vladimir Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens.
In the worst face-off with Moscow since the Cold War US. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the fourth day in a row, told him yesterday (Saturday) that Russia should exercise restraint. US President Barack Obama spoke by phone on Saturday to the leaders of France, Britain and Italy and three ex-Soviet Baltic states that have joined NATO, assuring them that the military alliance would protect them should the need arise.
Pro-Moscow Crimea leader Sergei Aksyonov said the referendum on union with Russia (due in a week) would not be stopped, and that it had been called quickly in order to avoid "provocation”. It is far from clear whether most of the 2 million Crimea residents want to be ruled by Moscow. When last asked in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of the Ukraine.
Western countries dismiss the planned referendum as illegal and likely to be falsified.