BREAKING: Crimean Parliament Stormed, Russian Flag RaisedPosted: February 27, 2014
Alessandra Prentice reports: Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.
“We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol … we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window…”
“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Viktor Yanukovich last week. “Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia’s acting envoy in Kiev for immediate consultations.
“We have our own constitution, Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they’re doing is illegal … We need to show our support for the guys inside…Power should be ours.”
There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.
The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would “escalate tension or create misunderstanding”.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a “very dangerous game”.
“This is a drastic step, and I’m warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin,” he told a news conference.
It was not immediately known who was occupying the buildings in the regional capital Simferopol and they issued no demands, but witnesses said they spoke Russian and appeared to be ethnic Russian separatists.
Interfax news agency quoted a witness as saying there were about 60 people inside and they had many weapons. It said no one had been hurt when the buildings were seized in the early hours by Russian speakers in uniforms that did not carry identification markings.
“We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol … we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window,” Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters.
“They’re still there … Then the police came, they seemed scared. I asked them (the armed men) what they wanted, and they said ‘To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do’,” said Khazanov.
About 100 police were gathered in front of the parliament building, and a similar number of people carrying Russian flags later marched up to the building chanting “Russia, Russia” and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum.
One of them, Alexei, 30, said: “We have our own constitution, Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they’re doing is illegal … We need to show our support for the guys inside (parliament). Power should be ours.”
Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new political leadership in Kiev following the ouster of Yanukovich on Saturday…
(Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Will Waterman)