There are large numbers of Russian troops reportedly landing at a military air base in Crimea Friday, prompting Ukraine to accuse Russia of a military invasion.
U.S. officials said they see “evidence of air and maritime movement into and out of Crimea by Russian forces.” Agence France Press quoted a top Ukranian official as saying Russian aircraft carrying nearly 2,000 suspected troops have landed at a military air base near the regional capital of the disputed Crimean peninsula.
“Thirteen Russian aircraft landed at the airport of Gvardeyskoye (near Simferopol) with 150 people in each one,” Sergiy Kunitsyn, the Ukrainian president’s special representative in Crimea, told the local ATR television channel, according to AFP. He accused Russia of an “armed invasion.”
Speaking from the White House Press Room, President Obama said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” by the Russian troops defending on the Crimea region in Ukraine and warned there “will be costs” for any military intervention.
The recent developments caused Ukraine to accuse Russia of a “military invasion and occupation.” The Russian troop movements are the result of several tests by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who order a large scale military operation to take airports in the Crimea region.
Earlier in the day, Russian armored vehicles rumbled across Crimea and reports surfaced of troops being deployed at airports and a coast guard base – signs of a more heavy-handed approach to the crisis from Moscow.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the U.N. Security Council that Russian military helicopters and transport planes are entering his country, and that neither major airport in Ukraine is under national control and that the main airport was “captured by Russian armed forces.”
He claimed 11 Russian military helicopters had been brought in along with M-24 military transport planes.
Armed gunmen took control of the two main airports in Crimea Friday. However, Russia has so far been silent on the claims of military involvement. No violence was reported at the civilian airport in Crimea’s capital of Simferopol or at the military airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, also part of Crimea. At the Simferopol airport, a man claiming to speak for the camouflage-clad forces patrolling the airport described them as Crimean militiamen.
Meanwhile, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych surfaced in Russia Friday, defiantly claiming that “pro-fascist hooligans” ran him out of office, apologizing for not having the strength to deter the movement.
Yanukovych also warned of “irresponsible Western policy” and vowed to continue the fight for Ukraine’s future Friday at a press conference in Rostov-on-don, Russia—his first public appearance since last Saturday. Interestingly, he spoke Russian during the press conference.
“I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and terror to seize the country,” he told reporters.
Yanukovych said he did not have plans to ask Russia for military support in dealing with the crisis in Ukraine, where he said power was stolen by “a bunch of radicals.” However, the latest Russian troop movements clearly show that Russia is not willing to let Ukraine go without a struggle.
Ukraine’s population is divided between those with loyalty to Russia and the West. The region of Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under former praised ruler, Catherine the Great, was once the crown jewel in both Russian and the former Soviet empires.
The Crimea region in discussion became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere symbolic formality until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Following those events, which were as rapid as the events today, Crimea found itself truly under the control of an independent Ukraine.