Ukraine’s Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov says 2,000 Russian soldiers have landed in Crimea in an armed invasion.
Russia has sent “several hundred” troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region, US defense officials said Friday, after Kiev called on Moscow to withdraw its forces from the peninsula.
“It looks like they’ve moved several hundred troops there (into Crimea),” a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The comments marked the first confirmation from President Barack Obama’s administration that Russia had launched an incursion into Crimea.
The Russians had not given the US government advance notice of the action or explained its intentions since the operation was launched, officials said.
But Pentagon officials stressed Washington was focused on diplomacy, and there was no serious consideration being given to any US military action.
“It is now in the realm of diplomacy,” said a second defense official, who asked not to be named.
Officials also said they were not aware of any request from Ukraine for military assistance.
“Under the guise of military exercises, Russia has brought troops into the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. And not only have they seized the parliament of the Crimea, the Council of Ministers of the Crimea, they are trying to take civilian buildings under control, communications, and trying to block places where Ukrainian soldiers are based,” Turchynov said in an appeal to the nation.
“They are provoking us to military conflict. According to information from our intelligence, they are working out scenarios that are completely analogous to Abkhazia, when after provoking a conflict, they began annexation of territory,” the acting president emphasized.
Ukraine Pravda is reporting that Russian military planes are now landing in the Crimea:
Russian airplanes are landing in Crimea from the direction of Russia, and a column of APCs [armored personnel carriers] is heading from the east toward Simferopol.
There are reports of at least 5 large IL-76 planes landing in the district of the military airfield in the town of Gvardeyskoye.
Various sources are reporting that a column of 10 Russian APCs is heading from Sevastopol toward Simfereopol.
Interfax Ukraine reports that all air traffic is halted at the Belbek Airport in Sevastopol due to the seizure of the landing strip by unknown persons.
“There are about 400 people now in the Belbek airport. They have occupied the landing strip and any movement of planes is stopped,” said a source.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has imposed capital controls to prevent a bank run. Itar-Tass reports that Ukraine’s national bank has imposed temporary limits to withdraw money from foreign currency deposits to sums equivalent to no more than 15,000 hryvnias (about $1,500) a day, National Bank Chief Stepan Kubiv told a press conference.
UPDATE (March 1, 2014):
6,000 Russian troops reportedly have crossed into Crimea despite calls by Britain and the US for Moscow to back off. Tensions are rising amid reports that Russian and Ukranian troops are trying to gain control of key sites in the southeastern region of Ukraine. (Read more here.)