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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)–Ukraine’s interim government has warned that it will not give up the Crimean Peninsula where Russian forces have surrounded military bases and other sites, but that it will try to resolve the crisis there peacefully. The announcement comes after Russian forces attempted to occupy a Ukrainian air force base and amid concerns over plans by Russian legislators to annex the region.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia said Ukraine would do all in its power to prevent bloodshed in Crimea, where local authorities prepare for a referendum on joining Russia. However, “Crimea was and will remain Ukrainian territory,” he said.
Yet, there was little sign of that Saturday, March 9, amid fresh reports that about 100 armed men took control of a military office in the regional capital, Simferopol.
Ukrainian officials also said Russian forces stormed a Crimean border control point early Saturday, beating up a senior officer, seizing the armoury and driving the officers’ families from their living quarters.
Additionally 100 Russian troops and 50 members of what authorities call Crimean “self-defence” forces reportedly continue to blockade a ferry crossing point near the port of Kerch.
AIR FORCE BASE
On Friday, March 7, pro-Russian troops reportedly tried to smash open the gates of a Ukrainian air force base in Crimea, but the standoff eventually ended after Ukrainians refused to surrender and the Russian forces left.
Other military bases have also been surrounded by pro-Russian forces across Crimea.
Armed men have also refused for three consecutive days to allow military observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to enter the Crimea region, and at one point warning shots were reportedly fired at the delegation.
The military movements come ahead of a controversial referendum on March 16 over whether Crimea should join Russia.
Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said that they would support a vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and become a region of the Russian Federation, ignoring sanction threats and warnings, from the United States and other countries.
However Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insists that Moscow is open to further talks with the West, if the right conditions are met.
He said, “We are ready to pursue dialogue if we have the assurance that it will be an honest dialogue between equal partners and without attempts to portray us as a party to the conflict.”
Yet, commentators say the presence of as many as 30,000 Russian forces across Crimea have called into question Russia’s relations with the West and its post-Cold War agreements on the sovereignty of nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia has warned the West over planned punitive measures, pledging to retaliate over an EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel. Moscow also says imposing sanctions on Russia will have negative consequences for the United States.