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Pro-Russian militias seize Ukraine`s Crimean navy HQ

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 23:21

Sevastopol: Pro-Russian forces captured Ukraine`s naval commander after seizing his headquarters in Crimea today as Moscow`s grip tightened on the peninsula despite Western warnings its "annexation" would not go unpunished. Kiev said it was dispatching its defence minister but Crimea`s regional leader said he would be barred from entry amid mounting tensions in a region at the epicentre of the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

Dozens of despondent Ukrainian soldiers -- one of them in tears -- filed out of the Ukraine`s main navy base in the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol after its storming by hundreds of pro-Kremlin protesters and Russian troops.

"We have been temporarily disbanded," a Ukrainian lieutenant who identified himself only as Vlad told AFP. "I was born here and I grew up here and I have been serving for 20 years," he said as a Russian flag went up over the base without a single shot being fired in its defence. "Where am I going to go?"

A Russian forces` representative said that Ukraine`s navy commander Sergiy Gayduk -- appointed after his predecessor switched allegiance in favour of Crimea`s pro-Kremlin authorities at the start of the month -- had been detained.

"He was blocked and he had nowhere to go. He was forced out and he has been taken away," Igor Yeskin told reporters.

A defence ministry spokesman in Crimea said pro-Russian forces also seized the checkpoint set up in front of a Ukrainian military base in the region`s western port town of Novoozerne.
He said they used a tractor to ram open the gate and were now in a standoff with Ukrainian troops. The Ukrainian government dispatched acting Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema to the region for urgent mediation talks.
But Crimea`s self-declared prime minister Sergei Aksyonov told the Interfax news agency while on a visit to Moscow that "no one will let them into Crimea and they will be sent back."

AFP
First Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 21:42

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