Russian flag flying above headquarters of Ukraine's Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol after pro-Moscow forces move in
ANKARA - Pro-Russian forces have apparently taken control of the administrative headquarters of Ukraine's Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea in a powerful hour-long speech to the Russian parliament.
Men wearing plain clothes and masks stormed the administrative headquarters of the fleet Wednesday morning and raised the Russian flag over the complex. A Ukrainian officer rapidly opened talks with pro-Russian officers in a bid to negotiate a safe exit for staff inside the headquarters.
The attack appeared to part of an attempt by pro-Russians to consolidate control of the Crimea a day after the Russian government officially declared the peninsula, which had been part of Ukraine, to be Russian territory.
Russia's Black Sea fleet is based at the port city of Sevastopol.
Putin and the leaders of the Crimean parliament signed a formal agreement Tuesday on the region's official annexation to Russia.
The move came after the strategic peninsula declared independence from Ukraine and opted to join the Russian Federation following a controversial referendum Sunday in which 97 percent of Crimeans backed the move.
Putin told political elites in Moscow on Tuesday that Western nations were trying to “twist things" to fit their own interests. He rejected criticism of Russia’s actions, saying, “In the practical application of policies, our Western partners -- the United States first and foremost -- prefer to be guided not by international law, but by the right of strength.”
He compared Crimea’s secession from Ukraine to that of Kosovo's from Serbia, and said the West was attempting to rewrite its own rulebook.
The White House has declared the annexation of Crimea "a threat to international peace and security" and "against international law" and refused to recognize it.
“Further actions, further provocations will lead to higher costs,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The European Union and the Obama administration have said that sanctions against individuals involved in the annexation will be expanded following the signing of the treaty.
On Monday, the U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine who are accused of involvement in Russia's actions in the Black Sea peninsula. Russia was also suspended from the G8 -- a group of eight leading industrialized countries -- the group announced Tuesday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared Tuesday that his government supported the policies of the European Union and NATO in relation to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
"We act together with the EU and NATO on Crimea," Davutoglu said in a televised program. "We also keep the door to diplomacy open with Russia, and this is to do with our geographical location."
He said Turkey would strive to ensure security and rights for Crimean Tatars, who boycotted the referendum.
The crisis in Ukraine was triggered last November after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped an association agreement with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia. The move led to protests in which more than 80 people died, but which forced Yanukovych to leave the country in late February.
Pro-Russian forces effectively took control of Crimea in late February, seizing the parliament and other key buildings. The peninsula, which has a predominantly ethnic Russian population, has been part of Ukraine since 1954.
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