Warning shots were fired to prevent an unarmed international military observer mission from entering Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea on Saturday, as new confrontations between Russian and Ukrainian troops raised tension ever higher, forcing President Barack Obama to make a series of phone calls on Saturday to world leaders about the ongoing crisis.
Russia’s seizure of the Black Sea Peninsula, which began about 10 days ago, has so far been bloodless, but its forces have become increasingly aggressive towards Ukrainian troops, who are trapped in bases and have offered no resistance.
Tempers have grown hotter in the last two days, since the region’s pro-Moscow leadership declared it part of Russia and announced a March 16 referendum to confirm it.
A spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said no one was hurt when shots were fired to turn back its mission of more than 40 unarmed observers, who have been invited by Kiev but do not have permission from Crimea’s pro-Russian separatist regional authorities. They had been turned back twice before, but this was the first time shots were fired.
A Ukrainian border patrol plane also came under fire while flying at about 1,000 metres near the administrative border with Russian-occupied Crimea on Saturday, the border guards said. No one was hurt when gunmen opened fire on the unarmed aircraft, a spokesman said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, gave no indication of any softening of Moscow’s position on Saturday, insisting that the government in Kiev had been installed in an illegal coup. Pro-Moscow Crimea leader Sergei Aksyonov said the referendum on union with Russia - due in a week - would not be stopped.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2014.