– Ukraine crisis: 30,000 Russian troops join Crimea occupation as Putin piles on the pressure (Daily Record, March 9, 2014):
RUSSIA has sent 30,000 elite troops flooding into Crimea to tighten Vladimir Putin’s hold on the Ukrainian province.
The massive force includes the feared 22 Brigade of Moscow’s Spetsnaz special forces, and paratroopers from the 31st Air Assault Brigade.
The move came as Ukraine’s acting foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia vowed: “We will not give up Crimea to anyone.”
America has tried to put pressure on Moscow by sending six F-15 fighter jets to join NATO air patrols over the Baltic states.
The US also plans to deploy 12 F-16 fighters and 300 troops to Poland for an exercise, and President Obama will send a navy destroyer to the Black Sea.
But Russia is sending signals of its own, announcing it will launch its largest ever air defence
exercise just 280 miles from the Ukrainian border.
Desperate diplomatic efforts continued yesterday to resolve the crisis, which began after pro-western protesters in Kiev forced Putin’s ally President Viktor Yanukovych to flee.
Moscow sent troops to the largely pro-Russian Crimea in response.
Obama and French president Francois Hollande yesterday threatened “new measures” against
Russia if Putin did not pull his troops back and allow international observers into Crimea.
Russian leaders warned the west against sanctions. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said such “reckless steps” could be counter-productive.
Lavrov’s deputy yesterday held “frank” talks with Ukraine’s ambassador to Moscow. No progress was reported.
Unarmed observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe were turned back from the Crimean border from a third time yesterday when pro-Russian forces fired warning shots over their heads.
Inside Crimea, pro-Russian forces continue to harass their Ukrainian rivals.
An air force base 30 miles from Sevastapol was stormed on Friday night. Reports said members of a pro-Russian militia drove a truck into the Balbek complex and kidnapped General Oleg Storchinksy, who heads Crimea’s Tactical Air Group.
Some of those who stormed the base were spotted wearing the insignia of the Berkut, the now
disbanded Ukrainian riot police blamed for the killings of protesters in Kiev before Yanukovych was toppled. Locals claimed Berkut men were being given Russian passports.