Days after Moscow approved a draft bill that would recognize the Crimean peninsula as a sovereign and independent state, Russian forces on Wednesday stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the port city of Sevastopol.
Tensions continued to escalate on the peninsula as 300 Russian forces and pro-Russian supporters took over Ukraine’s Black Sea Fleet command center and raised the Russian flag. Observers took the move as a sign to the Ukraine and its western allies that Moscow has no plans to back down.
Since last month, thousands of Russian soldiers have occupied Crimea, an autonomous republic located in the southern region of Ukraine, near the Black Sea. An estimated 22,000 Russian troops have surrrounded Ukrainian military bases there, and many fear that the uneasy standoff between Ukrainian troops and Russian forces could lead to a bloody conflict.
The first Ukrainian soldier was reported to have been killed on Tuesday by Russian troops. In response, Ukrainian leaders authorized the nation's soldiers who are said to be besieged in the bases to shoot in self defense.
The takeover comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimean officials signed a treaty that makes Crimea part of the Russian Federation.
In an hourlong speech on Wednesday, Putin defended Russia’s move on Crimea. "We were cheated again and again, with decisions being taken behind our back," he said, lamenting Russia’s position after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Crimea on Sunday held a referendum, which resulted in a 97 percent vote favoring secession from Ukraine and joining Russia. In response, the U.S and Europe, which called the referendum invalid, imposed sanctions on senior Russian political and military figures.