Ukraine has warned its conflict with Russia has entered a “military stage” and has authorised its troops to open fire in self-defence.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
The call comes after the first blood was shed since pro-Russian forces seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea nearly three weeks ago.
Tensions have also grown after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty claiming Crimea as Russian territory after Crimean residents overwhelmingly backed the move in a referendum.
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Large crowds have continued to gather in cities across the Crimean peninsula and in the Russian capital Moscow, celebrating the referendum result backing moves to bring Crimea under Russian control.
But the successful referendum vote is triggering ongoing tension between Russia, on the one side, and the interim government in Ukraine, the European Union and the United States on the other.
Ukraine’s regional defence ministry says one of its soldiers died after being shot in the neck when a group of gunmen stormed a Ukrainian military based in Crimea’s main city of Simferopol.
A pro-Russian gunman was also killed in the incident.
Adding to the tension, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Crimean leaders have signed a treaty to make the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia.
In an address to the Russian parliament, Mr Putin declared that Crimea should never have been transferred from Russian to Ukrainian control in the 1950s.
(Through translation) “Crimea always has been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This conviction, based on truth and fairness, has always been resolute and was passed from generation to generation. Both time and circumstances could not erase it. Dramatic changes that our country went through in the 20th century could not erase it either.”
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov has accused Mr Putin of fascism, warning Russia it will be held accountable for its actions.
(Through translation) “I want to stress that this is a very dangerous political game. This is a provocation, not only against Ukraine, this is an attempt to destabilise the situation in the entire region, in Europe and in the whole world.”
United States Secretary of State John Kerry has raised similar concerns.
“I must say I was really struck and somewhat surprised and even disappointed by the interpretations and the facts as they were articulated by the President (Putin). With all due respect, they really didn’t jibe with reality or with what’s happening on the ground. And the President may have his version of history. But I believe that he and Russia for what they have done are on the wrong side of history.”
A Canberra-based international law expert believes Russia is unlikely to gain global recognition of the Crimean referendum result.
Professor Don Rothwell, from the Australian National University, says United Nations conventions protect the rights of peoples to determine their own status.
However he says these same conventions also recognise the importance of territorial integrity.
Professor Rothwell believes the concerns raised by the US and European Union over the territorial integrity of Ukraine could be critical to the debate around the future status of Crimea.
“So while there seems to be some suggestion from the Russian Federation that they’re prepared to recognise an independent Crimea, it’s most unlikely that many other states in the international community would even consider granting that recognition to Crimea at this point in time or indeed would recognise any legitimacy associated with any absorption of Crimea into the Russian Federation.”
Professor Rothwell says there are some signs now that a protracted conflict is emerging over the future of Crimea, which is reminiscent of the Cold War which ended in the early 1990s.
“The overthrow of the previous (Ukrainian) President was seen very much to be a victory for the pro-Western supporters of Ukraine very much seeing itself as a European state, as opposed to those who wanted to more clearly align with Russia. So that’s the political context and the backdrop and so we may well effectively be seeing here a very clear example of a Cold War divide in terms of how this part of Eastern Europe is going to be resolved and settled.”