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Russia moves to consolidate control over Crimea

Russian forces moved Saturday to consolidate control over Crimea.

Six Russian special forces’ armored personnel carriers broke through the gates of Belbek Airbase, firing warning shots into the air, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense in Crimea, Vladislav Seleznyov, told CNN.

One journalist was injured in the attack, he said.

Once inside, the Russians lined up the Ukrainians in one place, he said.

In a separate incident, pro-Russian self-defense forces stormed the Novofederoskoe military base, also in Crimea, taking control of it, a Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

Ukrainian forces on the base threw smoke bombs during the incident and retreated to the base’s headquarters, according to Seleznev, in a Facebook posting.

The base’s aviation brigade then sang the Ukrainian national anthem, lowered the Ukrainian flag and left the base, he said.

The White House reacted by urging Russia to open talks with the Ukrainian government.

“As we have said, the Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces — whether they be regular uniformed troops or irregulars without insignias — inflict on Ukrainian military members,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, in a statement.

The reports “highlight the dangerous situation created by Russia and belie President Putin’s claim that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea has brought security to that part of Ukraine.”

The incidents occurred as international observers were set to arrive in Ukraine to monitor the security and human rights situation in a posting expected to last at least six months.

But they will not enter the contested region of Crimea, a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said, because this “became part of Russia.”

Moscow annexed the territory this week following a controversial snap referendum there that produced an overwhelming majority of votes in favor of leaving Ukraine to join Russia.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will eventually deploy a total of 100 observers throughout Ukraine in hopes of “reducing tensions and fostering peace, stability and security.” They will also check that the rights of ethnic minorities are being protected.

Advance teams were to be deployed within 24 hours, the OSCE said Friday.

The regional security organization may widen the mission to include 400 more monitors, and extend it for a second six-month period if requested by the Kiev government.

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