Ukraine’s interior minister has said the Russian military are blocking an airport in Crimea’s Sevastopol calling it an “armed invasion.” Unidentified armed men have also been seen patrolling the Simferopol airport.
“I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms,” Avakov said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
One of Russia’s naval fleets is based at Sevastopol.
Separately, dozens of unidentified armed men dressed in military uniforms were seen patrolling the airport at Simferopol, Crimea’s capital early on Friday morning.
The men, who refused to talk to journalists, did not move into the passenger terminal and appeared to be allowing the airport to function normally, the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted a worker at the airport as saying. Their uniforms were without military insignias and it was not immediately clear who they were.
The move came amid concerns of growing separatism on the Black Sea peninsula following the ouster of Kremlin ally President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
On Thursday, a group of masked gunmen took control of Crimea’s regional parliament, flying Russian flags over the building.
On Friday, members of the regional parliament voted to hold a referendum on May 25 on increasing the region’s autonomy from Kyiv.
The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighboring Russia. On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of his country’s armed forces in the west of the country.
Russia has also granted shelter to Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who is expected to hold a press conference later on Friday.
Yanukovych said in a statement released on Thursday that he still considered himself Ukraine’s legitimate leader despite being voted out of office by parliament last week.
Moscow has denied any involvementin the events transpiring in Crimea with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying Moscow “will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” He made the comments during a phone call about the situation with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
hc/pfd (Reuters, AP, dpa)