Russian forces invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine on Friday, capturing airports and moving military vehicles towards the region’s capital in what the new Ukrainian government labeled an “armed invasion.”
The move is an ominous escalation of the fast-moving crisis in Ukraine, where just last week protesters deposed Putin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. After fleeing his own country as a wanted criminal, the ousted president dramatically reappeared in Russia on Friday.
“Nobody has overturned me,” he declared in Russian — not Ukrainian. “I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to a direct threat to my life and my nearest and dearest . . . I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine against those who, with fear and with terror, are attempting to replace the power.”
The Russian military backed up his words with actions, moving helicopter gunships and special forces to capture two key airports and moving armored vehicles towards the regional capital. The new Ukrainian government has denounced the move as an “armed invasion” of their country.
HELICOPTER GUNSHIPS INVADING CRIMEA
RUSSIAN MILITARY CONVOYS ON THE MOVE IN UKRAINE
The soldiers occupying the airports wear no identifying insignia, such as a Russian flag, and refuse to speak to journalists. Some allege they have been beaten for taking pictures or asking the gunmen questions. While a few armored vehicles carried Russian markings, many more were unidentifiable.
UNIDENTIFIED (PRO-RUSSIAN) SOLDIERS OCCUPYING CRIMEA’S CIVILIAN AIRPORT
On Friday afternoon Russia finally confirmed the mystery troops were theirs, explaining they were moving to “protect Black Sea Fleet’s positions.” A Ukrainian newspaper reported at least five Russian military cargo planes landing in Crimea, suggesting a rapid troop build-up in the region.
RUSSIAN MILITARY CARGO PLANE LANDING IN CRIMEA
Ukraine’s new interior minister released a statement on the Russian occupation this evening. “It is a MILITARY INCURSION AND OCCUPATION IN VIOLATION OF ALL INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS AND NORMS,” he reportedly wrote. “This is the direct provocation of armed bloodshed in the territory of a sovereign state.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — who just yesterday assured journalists Russia would not intervene — said he would be watching to see if the operations in Crimea “might be crossing a line in any way . . . There are enough tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation and not send the wrong messages.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin remains silent.
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