Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov used Facebook to accuse Russia of invading his country on Friday, saying that Russian troops had seized the two main Crimean airports in Sevastopol and Simferopol.
Avakov described the incidents as “military intervention and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms ... this is a direct provocation of bloodshed on the territory of a sovereign state.”
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service also said that about 30 Russian marines are currently surrounding a Ukrainian coast guard base, according to the Associated Press, as it appears that Russia is building up power in Crimea.
Armed men set up checkpoints and military blockades throughout key locations in the southern region of Ukraine, Reuters reported. Although these soldiers are not wearing identifiable uniforms, they are thought to be a part of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is permanently stationed in Crimea. One serviceman confirmed this to Reuters.
Unidentified armed men patrol Simferopol's airport last night.
It is unclear if the increased military presence in Crimea is pro-Russian militias or Russian military with direct orders from Moscow. Russia denies allegations that their military has invaded Crimea and maintains that whatever personnel are currently there are only intended to maintain the security of the Black Sea Fleet.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that any military activity in Ukraine fully complies with foreign agreements and that “the Russian side considers the events on the Autonomous Republic of Crimea a consequence of recent internal political processes in Ukraine.”
Multiple reports, however, are emerging of armed Black Sea Fleet militia members spotted throughout the region and Russian helicopters flying over Ukrainian airspace, fueling accusations from Ukraine that Russia has quietly just invaded Ukraine.
This comes a day after pro-Russian groups forcibly took control of several Crimean government buildings, including the parliament, and hoisted the Russian flag throughout Simferopol.
Meanwhile, the ex-president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, announced in a defiant press conference earlier today that he had not be ousted by the opposition in Kiev, but rather that he “had to leave Ukraine because there was a direct and imminent threat to my life.” Yanukovych spoke from the Russian town of Rostov-on-Don, near Ukraine, and thanked the Russian government for providing security and protection from those trying to kill him in Ukraine.
When making a strong point in his speech he tried — and failed — to snap a pen in his hands.
This was Yanukovych's first public appearance after he fled Kiev last week under charges of arrest for the mass murder of civilians. He maintained that he was the rightful leader of Ukraine, even after opposition leaders have already appointed a new interim government in Kiev.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tells Russia to respect Ukraine's sovereignty.
In response to the recent developments in Crimea, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held a press conference today warning that Russia should respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and that the US would be “closely watching” Russia’s actions, lest they become any more provocative. Aside from this statement, however, the US has done little else to address the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Vitaliy Klitschko, the boxer-turned-opposition leader, also told the Russian military not to interfere in Crimea and warned of an invasion. Klitschko is expected to run for president in Ukraine in the upcoming elections slated for May 25.
Vitaliy Klitschko warns of pending Russian invasion.