SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine / MOSCOW (Reuters) — The
United States warned Moscow it was on a "dark path" to isolation on
Wednesday as Russian troops seized two Ukrainian naval bases, including
a headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol where they raised their
The dramatic seizure came as Russia and the West dug in for a long
confrontation over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, with the United
States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face
increasing political and economic isolation," said U.S. Vice
President Joe Biden, referring to reports of armed attacks against
Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea.
Biden was in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, as part of a quick
trip to reassure Baltic allies worried about what an emboldened
Russia might mean for their nations. Lithuania, along with Estonia
and Latvia, are NATO members.
"There is an attempt, using brutal force, to redraw borders of the
European states and to destroy the postwar architecture of Europe,"
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said.
The head of NATO warned that Putin may not stop with the annexation
of Crimea and urged Europe to step up defense spending in response
to the crisis.
"Crimea is one example. But I see Crimea as an element in a greater
pattern, in a more long-term Russian, or at least Putin, strategy,"
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a Washington think
tank. "So of course our major concern now is whether he will go
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon meets Putin in Moscow on Thursday and travels
to Kiev on Friday. He will urge a peaceful end to a crisis that
began when Ukraine's president abandoned a trade pact with the
European Union and turned instead to Moscow, prompting violent
street protests that led to his overthrow.
Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of
Russia by the end of the week, despite threats of further sanctions
from Washington and Brussels.
The Russian military moved swiftly to neutralize any threat of armed
resistance in Crimea.
"This morning they stormed the compound. They cut the gates open,
but I heard no shooting," said Oleksander Balanyuk, a captain in the
navy, walking out of the compound in his uniform and carrying his
"This thing should have been solved politically. Now all I can do is
stand here at the gate. There is nothing else I can do," he told
Reuters, appearing ashamed and downcast.
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the commander
of the Ukrainian navy, Admiral Serhiy Haiduk, was driven away by
what appeared to be Russian special forces.
Russian troops seized another Ukrainian naval facility in Crimea
late on Wednesday.
"Russian troops came and asked us to leave the base, which we did,"
Ukrainian navy Major Eduard Kusnarenko told Reuters outside the base
in Bakhchisaray, about 30 km (20 miles) southwest of the regional
In Washington, the White House condemned Russian moves to seize
Ukrainian military installations, saying they were creating a
U.S. President Barack Obama, who has imposed sanctions on 11 Russian
and Ukrainian officials, said Washington would keep up its
diplomatic push to bring pressure on Russia, but added in a
television interview: "We are not going to be getting into a
military excursion in Ukraine."
Russia sent thousands of soldiers to Crimea in the buildup to a
referendum last weekend in which the Russian-majority region voted
overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Moscow, reflecting national
loyalties and hopes of higher wages.
But there is unease among pro-Ukrainian Crimeans who have complained
about the heavy armed presence across the region.
"I was born here, my family is here, I have a job here and I am not
going anywhere unless there is an all-out military conflict," said
Viktor, a 23-year-old salesman. "It is my home but things will not
be the same anymore."
A few hundred meters away, the local authorities attached new,
Russian letters spelling "State Council of the Crimean Republic" on
the building of the local assembly.
Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy said the Kiev government
would urge the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarized
"The Ukrainian government will immediately appeal to the United
Nations to recognize Crimea as a demilitarized zone and take
necessary measures for Russian forces to leave Crimea and prepare
conditions for redeployment of Ukrainian forces," Parubiy said.
Ukraine announced plans to introduce visas for Russians, and Russia
said it might respond in kind.
Putin said his move to annex Crimea was justified by "fascists" in
Kiev who overthrew pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich last
Ukraine and Western governments have dismissed the referendum as a
sham, and say there is no justification for Putin's actions.
GERMANY MAKES MOVE
Germany's Cabinet approved EU plans for closer political cooperation
with Ukraine, a government source said, clearing the way for
Chancellor Angela Merkel to sign part of a so-called association
agreement at an EU summit later this week.
The 28-member bloc is expected to sign a more far-reaching trade
accord with Ukraine later.
But maintaining aggressive rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War,
Russia accused Western states of violating a pledge to respect
Ukraine's sovereignty and political independence under a 1994
security assurance agreement, saying they had "indulged a coup
d'etat" that ousted Yanukovich.
Moscow, which has said it will retaliate for so far largely symbolic
Western sanctions targeting Russian officials, announced on
Wednesday it was closing its military facilities to a European
security watchdog for the rest of the year.
The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying the signatories of
a 2011 Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe agreement
had exhausted their quotas to inspect Russian military facilities
and a planned inspection in the coming days would be the last.
Biden said in Warsaw on Tuesday the United States may run more
ground and naval military exercises to help Baltic states near
Russia beef up their capacity after what he called Putin's "land
grab" in Ukraine.
The Truxtun, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, started a one-day
military exercise with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies in the
Black Sea on Wednesday, a U.S. Naval Forces official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the restraint of
Ukraine's armed forces in a phone call on Wednesday with his
A brief Pentagon statement about Hagel's conversation with Ukraine's
acting defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh, made no mention of any
Ukrainian requests for assistance. Kiev has asked for lethal and
non-lethal military support from the United States, which has so far
only approved military rations.
Washington and Brussels said further sanctions would follow the visa
bans and asset freezes imposed so far on a handful of Russian and
Crimean officials, drawing derision from Moscow.
But Ukraine's foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, told Reuters the
steps taken by the West were "a very concrete step forward," and
added: "I believe these countries will not stop at this level of
On a visit to Japan, which has joined the Western chorus of
condemnation of Moscow's action, close Putin ally Igor Sechin, chief
executive officer of Russian oil major Rosneft, said expanding
sanctions would only aggravate the crisis.
European Union leaders will consider widening the number of people
targeted by personal sanctions when they meet on Thursday and
Friday, diplomats said, as well as signing the political part of an
association agreement with Ukraine's interim government.
EU officials say they have identified more than 100 potential
targets. Some media reports say Sechin and the head of Russian gas
monopoly Gazprom are on the wider list.
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Gabriela Baczynska
in Simferopol; Elizabeth Piper and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Ronald
Popeski in Kiev; and Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington;
writing by Mike Collett-White and Peter Cooney; editing by Anna
Willard, Giles Elgood and Lisa Shumkaer)