Ukrainian pro-Western interim government warned Moscow on Friday of staging an “armed invasion” of Crimea hours after fugitive leader Viktor Yanukovych emerged defiant on Thursday.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused the Russian armed forces of being directly involved in armed dawn raids on an airport in Crimea’s main city of Simferopol as well as an airfield on the southwestern coast.
He said gunmen at the Simferopol airport “are not even hiding the fact that they belong to the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”The interior minister added that the Belbek airfield was “blockaded by military units of the Russian navy.”
“I consider what is happening to be an armed invasion and an occupation,” Avakov said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.
But Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying that the Belbek air field was under the control of local pro-Russian self-defence units who had no links to the Black Sea fleet.
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov declared on Thursday that any movement of Russian troops out of their Black Sea bases in Crimea “will be considered as military aggression”.
For his part, Ukrainian defiant leader Viktor Yanukovych issued a statement to Russian news agencies from an undisclosed location on Thursday announcing that he was “compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure (his) personal security.” A source later told the same agencies that Yanukovych’s request for protection “was satisfied on Russian territory.”
The fugitive leader is now expected to appear before the media at 1300 GMT in Rostov-on-Don — a Russian city less than two hours’ drive from the Ukrainian border.
“Full US Support”
On the other hand, US Vice President Joe Biden promised the interim government “full” US support Thursday as they seek to head off Russian influence.
Biden called interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to “welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine,” a White House statement said.
Biden “emphasized that this is an important opportunity not only to bring peace, stability, and unity to Ukraine, but also to restore the faith of all of the Ukrainian people in their country’s democratic institutions as they prepare for new elections in May,” a White House statement said.
“The vice president reassured the prime minister that the United States will offer its full support as Ukraine undertakes the reforms necessary to return to economic health, pursue reconciliation, uphold its international obligations and seek open and constructive relationships with all its neighbors.”
Top US diplomat John Kerry said earlier that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told him that Moscow “will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Lavrov also insisted Moscow was not behind the storming of Crimean government buildings by dozens of gunmen, according to Kerry.
The White House also reinforced US warnings to Russia that it must avoid “miscalculations” in military drills along Ukraine’s border.