On Wednesday the Russia military announced large-scale military exercises near Ukraine’s borders. On Thursday, unidentified armed men occupied a government building in Crimea.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pressed Russia on Thursday not to take any action on Ukraine that might heighten tensions or be subject to misinterpretation.
(T)hese are times for cool, wise leadership on Russia’s side and everyone’s side,” Hagel told reporters in Brussels after a NATO defense ministers meeting. He said there are concerns that Russia could act in a way that would lead to miscalculation during a “delicate time” in Ukraine.
Until we know more details, what really happened, who’s in charge, the focus should be on let’s keep the tensions down, let’s see no provocative actions by anyone, any military, Hagel said.
Hagel said the United States strongly supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and is closely monitoring the Russian maneuvers. He said the Obama administration expects all nations to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and to avoid provocations.
Hagel and other NATO ministers met earlier Thursday with Ukrainian officials. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russian authorities had informed the U.S. alliance of the military exercises, and “made it clear” they have nothing to do with Ukraine, whose pro-Moscow president has fled to Russia and been replaced by a leadership friendlier to the West.
On Friday, unidentified armed men began patrolling outside the Simferopol airport in Ukraine’s Crimea region on Friday, with some speculating that the men were Russian soldiers. Newly appointed Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov believed the men to be Russian soldiers, and spoke out against their presence in a Facebook message, saying, “I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norm.”
The airport occupationfollow the seizure of government buildings in Crimea on Thursday by armed gunmen who raised Russian flags above the buildings. Clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian interim government groups turned deadly in the mostly pro-Russian Crimea region, with two reported deaths and 35 injured.
The Obama administration has repeatedly called upon Russia to respect the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine. Despite assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suspicion and uneasiness persist that Russia is maneuvering to take advantage of its vulnerable neighbor.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Russian soldiers had arrived in Sevastopol military airport near Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Base on Friday morning.
In other developments, the BBC has reported:
- It has seen eight trucks with the black plates of the Russian army moving towards Simferopol.
- Eight Russian military helicopters have arrived in Sevastopol.
- Ukraine’s parliament calls on the UN Security Council to discuss the unfolding crisis in Crimea.