Tensions mounted on the eve of a secession referendum in Crimea as helicopter-borne Russian forces made a provocative incursion just beyond the peninsula’s regional border to seize a natural gas terminal while US and European officials prepared sanctions to impose on Moscow as early as March 17, New York Times reported on March 16.
The military operation by at least 80 troops landing on a slender sand bar just across Crimea’s northeast border seemed part of a broader effort to strengthen control over the peninsula before a vote March 16 on whether its majority Russian-speaking population wants to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or break completely and join Russia. Whatever its goals, it sent a defiant message to the United States and Europe and underscored that a diplomatic resolution to Russia’s recent takeover of Crimea remains elusive.
The raid came as US and European diplomats essentially forced Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution declaring the Sunday referendum illegal. Western diplomats hoped the result would reinforce Russia’s growing international isolation. Russia cast the only vote against the resolution; even China, its traditional ally on the council, did not vote with Moscow but abstained, an indication of its unease with Russia’s violation of another country’s sovereignty.
Russia left little impression of backing down Saturday. Russian forces made a show of added strength here in Simferopol, the regional capital, stationing armed personnel carriers in at least two locations in the city center and parking two troop carriers outside the headquarters of the election commission.
The more provocative move, however, was the seizure of the gas terminal near a town called Strelkovoye, which drew new threats of a military response from the Ukrainian government. Until now, it has refrained from responding in force to Russian actions, but it sent troops on March 15 to surround the gas terminal, though there were no immediate indications of any shots being fired, according to a Ukrainian news service quoting local police.
In Kiev, the Foreign Ministry said Ukraine “reserves the right to use all necessary measures” to stop what it called “the military invasion by Russia.”
Copyright: New York Times, 2014