Ukraine prosecutors launch 'terror' probe over Crimea raid
An ethnic Russian Ukrainian man holds the Crimea flag on top of an old Soviet tank during rallies near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol, Feb 26. REUTERS photoProsecutors in Ukraine on Thursday launched a "terror" probe over the seizure of government buildings by pro-Russian gunmen in the Crimea peninsula, the general prosecutor said in a statement.
Prosecutors in the Russian-speaking region opened a case based on a statue governing any alleged "terrorist act" after dozens of armed men seized the local parliament and government headquarters.
It was not immediately clear who was in control of the buildings but a Reuters correspondent on the scene said the Russian flag was flying over both in the regional capital, Simferopol.
Ethnic Tatars who support Ukraine's new leaders and pro-Russia separatists had confronted each other outside the regional parliament on Feb. 26.
Interfax quoted a local Tatar leader, Refat Chubarov, as saying on Facebook: "I have been told that the buildings of parliament and the council of ministers have been occupied by armed men in uniforms that do not bear any recognisable insignia."
"They have not yet made any demands," he said. About 100 police were gathered in front of the parliament building. Doors into the building appeared to have been blocked by wooden crates.
Russia vows to abide by agreements with Ukraine on Black Sea fleet
Russia will abide by treaties regarding its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine's Crimea region, the foreign ministry said Thursday, after Ukraine's interim leader warned Moscow to keep troops at their bases.
"Regarding the statements about Russia's violation of the agreements on the Black Sea fleet, we declare that in the current difficult situation the Russian Black Sea fleet is strictly adhering to said agreements," Russian agencies quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov earlier said that any movement of Russian troops out of their Black Sea bases "will be considered as military aggression".
The Russian defence ministry on Wednesday said that it has to take "security measures" in Crimea, where Russia's Black Sea fleet has been based since tsarist times in the port city of Sevastopol.
NATO chief urges Russia not to escalate tension over Crimea
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday warned Russia not to take any action over Crimea that could stoke tensions or misunderstandings in the Ukraine crisis.
"I'm concerned about developments in Crimea," Rasmussen said in a tweeted message.
"I urge Russia not to take any action that can escalate tension or create misunderstanding," he said.
Rasmussen's comments were made as the Ukraine interim government called in Moscow's representative in Kiev to warn that Russia must respect its territorial integrity after pro-Russian gunmen seized control of government buildings in the Crimea peninsula.
Rasmussen later told a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission that the latest developments in Crimea were "dangerous and irresponsible".
"I urge all parties to step back from confrontation," he said, calling on the Kiev authorities to lead the country forward in the most inclusive political process possible.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted on Feb. 22 after three months of unrest led by protesters in Kiev. He is now on the run being sought by the new authorities for murder in connection with the deaths of around 100 people during the conflict.
Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 in the Soviet-era by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. With a part of Russia's Black Sea fleet based in the port of Sevastopol, it is the only region of Ukraine where ethnic Russians dominate in numbers, although many ethnic Ukrainians in other eastern areas speak Russian as their first language.
With Crimea now the last big bastion of opposition to the new post-Yanukovych political order in Kiev, Ukraine's new leaders have been voicing alarm over signs of separatism in the region.