SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (CNN, March 8, 2014) – Ukrainian officials accused pro-Russian forces in its Crimea region of fresh bullying tactics Saturday, as about 100 armed men reportedly took control of a military office in the regional capital, Simferopol.
The men — who are equipped with automatic weapons — say they belong to the Crimean self-defense forces, said Vladislav Seleznyov, head of the Ministry of Defense’s media office, on his Facebook page.
A CNN team that visited the scene said it appeared calm. Armed, masked men were at the entrance, and Russian flags were being painted on the gates. Those questioned declined to say what was happening inside.
Amid signs that the tense standoff of the past week is growing more volatile, Russian troops also stormed a Crimean border control point early Saturday, seizing the armory and driving the officers’ families from their living quarters, Ukraine’s border service said.
The troops beat up the senior officer on duty at the Schelkino border control point, near the city of Kerch, when he tried to stop them, the State Border Guard Service said on its website. Russian forces are now in control of the premises, it said.
The border service said about 100 armed Russian military and 50 members of Crimean “self-defense” forces are continuing to blockade a ferry crossing point near the port of Kerch. This is being used to bring in Russian troops and military vehicles, it said.
On Friday, pro-Russian troops reportedly tried to smash open the gates of a Ukrainian base in Crimea. Russia’s navy also blockaded Ukrainian ships Friday.
Armed men have now refused for three consecutive days to allow military observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to enter the Crimea region.
The observers are returning to the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson to plan their next steps after being denied entry at the Armyans’k crossing point Saturday, the OSCE said.
The OSCE said shots were fired in the air when a group of people wearing balaclavas approached the checkpoint ahead of its group.