Crimea Leader Says 11,000 Pro-Russian Troops in Control of Region
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The new regional Prime Minister of Crimea said thousands of pro-Russian forces control all access to the strategic peninsula and have blockaded all Ukrainian military bases that have not yet surrendered.
Sergei Aksyonov told AP late Wednesday that riot police and security forces have been joined by 11,000 self-defense troops. All or most of these troops are believed to be Russian, even though the Russian president and defense minister have denied sending in troops.
Aksyonov did say that his government is in regular contact with Russian officials.
The West has joined the new Ukrainian leadership in demanding that Russia should pull its forces out from Crimea, but little progress was reported after a flurry of diplomatic activity Wednesday.
The US and western diplomats have failed to bring the Russian and the Ukrainian foreign ministers together for face-to-face talks on the confrontation in Crimea, even as the US Secretary of State John Kerry has voiced optimism that an exit strategy was possible.
"I'd rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday," he said.
Meanwhile, the NATO has punished Russia by suspending military cooperation, and the European Union has extended $15 billion in aid to Ukraine, matching the amount the country's fugitive president accepted from Moscow to turn his back on an EU trade accord.
Also on Wednesday, a UN special envoy sent to Crimea was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men, a UN official said.
After a confrontation that began as he was leaving naval headquarters and continued at a cafe, Envoy Robert Serry was driven to Simferopol Airport by the men and urged to fly to Ukraine's capital to continue his fact-finding mission there, the officials said.
"My car was blocked and somebody who did not identify himself was telling me that he had orders to bring me immediately to the airport," Serry told a crew from the British broadcaster ITV that was sheltering with him in the cafe. "I refused." He left the car and walked to the cafe, where the armed men outside prevented him from leaving.
He eventually left the cafe through a crowd chanting pro-Russia slogans and was driven to the airport.
Before leaving Simferopol, an AP reporter found Serry in the business class lounge of its airport.
"I'm safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand," the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more.