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- Saturday, March 01, 2014 - From Print Edition


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine: Several hundred troops in green camouflage, without insignia and carrying military-style automatic rifles, entered and secured areas of the civilian airport in Crimea’s regional capital of Simferopol early on Friday and deployed elsewhere, drawing protests from the new Ukrainian government against what it called a Russian invasion.


Video taken at the scene showed the troops patrolling inside the airport and standing guard outside. Flights continued to operate; no shots were fired. In Kiev, Ukraine’s new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said the armed men were Russian troops.


The Ukrainian parliament demanded on Friday that Russia halt what lawmakers described as violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The legislature called for a UN Security Countil meeting on the crisis.


“What is happening can be called an armed invasion and occupation. In violation of all international treaties and norms. This is a direct provocation for armed bloodshed in the territory of a sovereign state,” Avakov said. Avakov said troops from the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet, berthed principally at the Crimean port of Sevastopol, had also secured entrances to the Belbek military airport near the city.


“There is still no direct armed conflict. Diplomats should speak,” Avakov said. A spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet denied the reports that its troops are involved in blocking the Belbek airfield, according to the Interfax news agency. “No subdivision of the Black Sea Fleet has been advanced into the Belbek area, let alone involved in blocking it,” the spokesman said.


“Given the unstable situation around the Black Sea Fleet bases in the Crimea, and the places where our service members live with their families, security has been stepped by the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-terror units.” A Crimea news Web site, Argumenty Nedeli Krym, reported that the armed men carried assault rifles. “As journalists attempted to approach them, one of the servicemen warned that they would shoot to kill,” the Web site said.


At the Belbek airport, armed men and a military transport truck blocked the entrance. Whoever the men were, they did not appear to be civilian militiamen, but trained soldiers. When a man who appeared to be a Russian officer with two bodyguards approached them, they spread out in defensive positions, squatted and waited for orders.


Dozens of troop transport trucks were scattered along the highway between Sevastopol and Simferopol. Seven Russian armored personnel carriers were spotted on the roadside outside Sevastopol showing Russian colors.


One of the gunners said they were Russian Federation forces from the Krasnodar region in Russia, about 180 miles from Sochi. The mysterious troops at the main airport in Simferopol slowly circulated at the arrival and departure concourses as international flights from Moscow and Istanbul continued as scheduled.