The Ukrainian troops vowed to hold whatever ground they had left on the Belbek base.
“We are worried. But we will not give up our base,” said Capt. Nikolai Syomko, an air force radio electrician holding an AK47. He said the soldiers felt they were being held hostage, caught between Russia and Ukraine. There were no other reports of significant armed confrontations yesterday in Ukraine.
Amid the tensions, the Russian military yesterday successfully test-fired a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile, fired from a launch pad in southern Russia, hit a designated target on a range leased by Russia from Kazakhstan.
The new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev, which Putin does not recognize, has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea, which the Russian leader denied.
Ukraine’s prime minister expressed hope Tuesday that a negotiated solution could be found. Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a news conference that both governments were talking again, albeit slowly.
“We hope that Russia will understand its responsibility in destabilizing the security situation in Europe, that Russia will realize that Ukraine is an independent state and that Russian troops will leave the territory of Ukraine,” he said.
In his hour-long meeting with reporters Tuesday, Putin said Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea, while insisting its residents have the right to determine the region’s status in a referendum later this month. Crimean tensions, Putin said, “have been settled.”
He said massive military maneuvers Russia has conducted involving 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s border were previously planned and were unrelated to the current situation in Ukraine. Russia announced that Putin had ordered the troops back to their bases.
Putin hammered away at his message that the West was to blame for Ukraine’s turmoil, saying its actions were driving Ukraine into anarchy. He warned that any sanctions the United States and European Union place on Russia for its actions will backfire.