The standoff between Ukraine and Russia over the fate of the Crimean peninsula almost erupted into a full-scale violent conflict after pro-Russian soldiers stormed a Ukrainian military base Friday.
The commander of a Ukrainian military base southwest of Sevastapol told reporters two trucks carrying between 30-60 armed soldiers entered the base Friday night. He says the soldiers were Russian, and told the Ukrainians they would shoot to kill. (Via BBC)
ITV reports most of the 100 Ukrainian soldiers barricaded themselves in the base, while a few soldiers negotiated with the invading troops. The allegedly Russian soldiers left the base shortly thereafter.
But while no shots were fired, the incident didn't stay non-violent. Reporters for The Guardian and The Telegraph say at least six journalists were attacked at the scene by pro-Russian Crimeans, who have been forming irregular "self-defense" mobs. According to one witness, a "cameraman shouted 'I'm Russian!' Masked men just said 'so are we' and punched him in the head anyway."
A CNN correspondent warns that the provocation in Crimea could be early indicators that Russia is looking to tighten its grip over the region — no matter the consequences.
"This is exactly the kind of indicator that the U.S. is worried about, that this is the kind of thing that could spark wider conflict. This standoff can't continue."
And as the standoff in Crimea wears on, journalists have increasingly become targets. Yesterday, video surfaced of several men wrestling a European journalist to the ground and pointing a gun at his head to stop him from taking pictures. (Via YouTube / Hromadske TV)
And the Committee to Protect Journalists reports three local news stations in Crimea have been cut off from broadcasting over the last week, their signals replaced with Russian state-owned broadcasters.
The Pentagon estimates Russia has about 20,000 troops currently stationed in Crimea. The region's parliament is scheduled to hold a public vote about whether Crimea should secede from Ukraine and join Russia on Mar. 16.