Ukraine updates: Russia holds air defense drills, Ukraine to reject Crimea referendum
By End the Lie
Events in Ukraine continue to rapidly evolve with Russian forces beginning air defense drills and the reported seizure of a military base by Russian forces.
The Pentagon confirmed the defense drills, which are being held just 280 miles east of the Ukrainian border, according to Fox News.
The month-long drills involve some 3,500 troops and over 1,000 units of military hardware, according to RIA Novosti.
The exercise will culminate in live-fire drills and the deployment of air defense systems, RIA Novosti reported.
“It is for the first time that all air defense units from the district, including coastal defenses of the Northern Fleet, have gathered in one place,” said Col. Oleg Kochetkov, the spokesman for Russia’s Western Military District. “It is the largest-ever exercise held by air defense units of the Western Military District.”
Kochetkov said it is part of the military’s regular training cycles.
“There is no change to U.S. military posture in the region,” a senior Pentagon official said. “Russia is in a high state of readiness and [the United States] can’t underestimate the potential that they could act further.”
However, a senior U.S. official told Fox News that it is not in the “national interest” to go to war over Ukraine and that no additional U.S. military commitments are expected as of Friday.
Military base seizure
An Interfax Ukraine report cited witnesses who said they saw Russian troops breaking through the gate of a missile defense base in Crimea with a military vehicle. No shots were fired, according to the report.
A Reuters report contradicted the Interfax report in stating that the truck hit the gates of a post in Sevastopol, but there were no indications of damage, according to Fox News.
Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military official, told Reuters that armed men took over the base without any gunfire or injuries.
Another unnamed Ukrainian military official told Reuters that he was mediating between the sides and that the armed group had not seized any weapons.
Crimea’s pro-Russia premier Sergei Aksyonov said all was calm at the military post when questioned during a political talk show on Ukrainian television.
The BBC reports that two trucks from the Russian Black Fleet are outside of the gates but there is no sign the base had been seized.
The trucks were reportedly surrounded by “irregular soldiers and a very hostile crowd of pro-Russian demonstrators,” according to the BBC’s Christian Fraser.
“Two journalists who attempted to take photographs were beaten badly,” the report stated.
Ukrainian government responds to planned Crimea referendum
Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said the Crimean referendum to become a part of Russia is a “farce,” according to Voice of America.
Turchynov accused the Russian military of organizing the vote, which is scheduled for March 16.
He said he and the Ukrainian parliament would move to protect Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty and that they would begin proceedings to dissolve the parliament in Crimea.
“No one in the civilized world” will recognize the referendum’s results, according to Ukrainian interim Prime Minsiter Arseniy Yatsenyuk, according to the BBC.
Yatsenyuk told reporters on Friday that the “separatists” and “traitors of the Ukrainian state” are engaging in actions that are “unlawful” and “unconstitutional,” Voice of America reports.
Similarly, U.S. and European leaders have stated that the referendum is illegal.
Crimean officials have maintained that the vote will go forward despite Kiev’s attempts to stop it.
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