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Crisis in Crimea sharply divides small town of Novo-Ozerne



BY TIM SULLIVAN

NOVO-OZERNE, Ukraine (AP) - For years, the little Crimean town was closed off from the rest of the world, a secretive community, at the edge of a key Soviet naval base, sealed by roadblocks and armed guards.

Today, to get to Novo-Ozerne, you just follow a pitted two-lane road far into the Crimean countryside, past collective farms abandoned decades ago and villages where it's hard to see any life, even at midday.

There's not much in town anymore, just the occasional ship that has sailed up the Black Sea inlet to this isolated spot, a handful of crumbling navy buildings, and an armory ringed by barbed wire.

But the Russians want it.

And the little forgotten town is now sharply divided, torn between those who welcomed the arrival here over the weekend of dozens of Russian soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, and those who back the Ukrainians who are refusing to surrender their weapons.

"We know who they are and we see (what they are doing) as terrorism," said Sergei Reshetnik, a local businessman furious over the Russians' arrival. "We just want to live quietly."

The standoff in Novo-Ozerne between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers is a scene playing out across Crimea, days after Moscow effectively seized political power across the strategic Black Sea peninsula, establishing a pro-Russian regional government backed up by hundreds - perhaps thousands - of soldiers. The seizure of power came after months of street demonstrations in the capital, Kiev, which forced out Ukraine's president, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych. The new government has taken a sharp turn away from Moscow, and is eager to form closer ties to the European Union.

But if Russia expected the Ukrainian military to go easily, handing over its weapons as soon as it was asked, things turned out far more complicated. Instead, military installations across Crimea - many of them surrounded or taken over by Russian forces - have refused to surrender, raising the tension and leading to fears of all-out combat. Ukraine's new government has ordered the bases to remain loyal to Kiev.

In Novo-Ozerne, the standoff had turned into an impasse by Monday afternoon. After the initial confrontation, the Russians had moved most of their forces away from the base and into an abandoned building, leaving about a dozen heavily armed soldiers in hurriedly built trenches outside the armory.

The commanders have talked a few times, trying to avoid the chance of accidental bloodshed, and things often looked fairly normal, with soldiers, their wives and girlfriends passing easily in and out of the main Ukrainian base.

Outside the armory, members of pro-Russian self-defense groups - which have often worked closely with the Russian military - set up a perimeter to search vehicles leaving the compound.

They were thrilled at the Russians' arrival.

To them, what happened in Kiev was a coup staged by anti-Russian fascists who they fear will punish the ethnic Russians who dominate this part of Ukraine. So, they said, they were making sure no weapons made it out of the armory.

"We don't want to become another Yugoslavia here," said Alexei Maslyukov, a local resident who organized the checkpoint, barely 50 feet (15 meters) from where masked Russians watched with automatic weapons.

In many ways, what happened in this town is unusual. Crimea was a crown jewel of the czarist and Soviet empires, and ethnic Russians moved here in droves over the years. After the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence, many Crimeans continued to see themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian.

By all appearances, most Crimeans have welcomed the Russian military, and given only scattered support to the Ukrainian soldiers.

But this town, which outwardly is just another vision of post-Soviet decay, with its identical concrete-block apartments and empty storefronts, is shockingly diverse. There are Russians and Tatars, the Turkic people who once dominated Crimea. There are Azeris, Gypsies and Jews. Few of these people have any loyalty to Moscow.

The village, which once numbered more than 12,000, now has fewer than half that many people. The Soviets took most of their ships and equipment with them at independence, leaving the naval installations little more than piles of concrete and decades-old weaponry.

"Whatever they didn't want, that's what they left here," said Reshetnik, the local businessman.

The town now depends on summer tourists for much of its income. The population almost doubles again during the key summer tourist months, with thousands attracted by the chance of a cheap holiday along the water.

Many fear the standoff could scare away the travelers.

"The tourist season will be totally screwed," grumbled Reshetnik. "People are already broke."

Dozens of local residents turned out early Monday to demonstrate their support for the Ukrainians, with many shouting angrily at Russian soldiers to leave the base's main gate. And, in fact, the Russians did soon withdraw.

That fact made the base's acting commander smile.

"Talking to them, I know that they are ready to come here and stand as defense between us and the Russians," said Vadim Filipenko.

His forces are clearly outgunned. The Ukrainian soldiers are ready for an attack, standing at the main gate with their fingers just off the triggers of their AK-47s.

But the armored vehicle parked behind them, with its spray-painted tires and splotches of rust, appears to have been used for decoration until just a few days ago.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
kensucharski March 03 2014 at 8:40 PM

Carol, take your SPAM somewhere else.
Why is this allowed on the comment page?

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1 reply
Relevant Data kensucharski March 04 2014 at 1:52 AM

I tried to reply to her to make fun of this ad but was not allowed to remark on it because of a technical error. So, I'm sure they pay to get on and you can't touch them. I just learned to ignore it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
drusus5845 March 03 2014 at 10:13 PM

So the Russians, whatever the count, are welcoming the Russian army. Well hopefully they will not do to the Ukrainians what they did to the Germans in Berlin. Stalin said," why blame them for a little fun." Well how about Budapest, Prague. The "Red" army had fun there too. How about the Ukraine, 1937 , starvation and cannibalism caused by Stalin when he confiscated all of the Ukrainian grain so a common Ukrainian had nothing to eat. Yup. Real gentlemen.

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1 reply
jebby1 drusus5845 March 04 2014 at 12:15 AM

So ... how many Californian's would welcome the Mexican army there?

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furia001 March 03 2014 at 10:56 PM

IMPRESSIVE !!! YOU CAN REALLY GET DOWN ON THE WRITING AND EXPLAINING. IT IS VERY HARD TO FIND A PERSON WITH A CLUE, THAT CAN EXPLAIN HIMSELF. REALLY APPRECIATED. BUT SOME OF THESE MORONS THAT VOTE TO GET US INVOLVE IN A PROBLEM THAT PUTIN ALREADY HAS THE APPROVAL TO INTERVIENE. IT MAY HURT A LOT OF AMERICAN INVESTORS, BUT THAT IS THE REALITY. PERHAPS, MOST OF THESE MORONS APPROVING THE US TO GET INVOLVE, DON'T PAY TAX OR LIVE OF WELFARE. ANY CITIZEN OF THIS REPUBLIC WHO PAY TAXES, WILL NOT APPROVE ANOTHER ROPE IN OUR NECKS. BESIDES, RUSSIA HAVE MORE VALUABLES IN UKRAINEA.

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crrunch March 04 2014 at 12:01 PM

It's all about the port access.

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1 reply
lov2elkhnt crrunch March 04 2014 at 12:30 PM

That's just a tiny part of it. Putin wants his old USSR back and once the old pre WW2 nations are back into the fold, you can count on Putin to start gobbling up all the way to Berlin once more. Iron Curtin Part 2.

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2 replies
David lov2elkhnt March 04 2014 at 2:40 PM

You geniuses should be in the foreign service..Serving in some distant foreign land so you could ponder
your own body functions.

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rreggaeredkc lov2elkhnt March 04 2014 at 6:53 PM

Thanks for your thoughts lov. I have similar thoughts.

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Jon March 04 2014 at 12:05 AM

I have to admit I don't care very much about Crimea, but I'm not so keen on another Cold War. So maybe we should nip this in the bud? We probably already missed our chance in botching Syria.

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Pantino4 March 04 2014 at 9:30 AM

Lord, Have mercy.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
rhwins1060 March 04 2014 at 5:19 AM

So Russia is asserting itself after losing hockey at the Olympics? Send in the Canadians!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Bubba March 04 2014 at 12:33 AM

If the Ukrainian military refuse to allow the Russians to take over their facilities, there will remain a stand-off, because the Russians do not want to spill blood - they want a "bloodless" take-over. That is the only way that they can retain a shread of respectability. And if the Ukranians want to reatin their country, they need to tell Comrade Putin to go "suck wind".
Unless someone inadvertently fires the first round, the Russians will not attack, nor spill the first blood. It would be counter-productive to their efforts in the Ukraine.

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1 reply
Ken Bubba March 04 2014 at 1:05 AM

It would be nice if you were right. However, Russia did not get its "bear" symbol by bloodless takeovers. Even if that's what somebody wants at or near the top, I suggest that they really don't know how to do it. They'll end up with casualties somehow.

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BRYANT March 03 2014 at 10:41 PM

This is in the russian sphere of influence. If the Mexican government was overthrown by what we concieve of as radicals we would do the same.

On another note, we are sanctioning a good part of the world. How long before they get together or learn to ignore us.

To those who want military action - you crazies obviously don't mind starting a world wide nuclear war (the country that sees itself as losing will use them) but sane people disagree.

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1 reply
worldcommenter BRYANT March 03 2014 at 11:38 PM

The northen provinces of Mexico are already not under control of the Mexican goverment but the narco-trafficers and we still do not invade Mexico. Have not heard about the local people in Mexico having enough with the corrupt police and drug trafficers and running both out of towns and villiges? Do you even comprehend how much damage the drug trade and drug wars between various cartels creats in the US?

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2 replies
jebby1 worldcommenter March 04 2014 at 12:13 AM

A better analogy would be if Mexico invaded California fearing it needs to protect lives and rights of the Mexican people living there.

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leo300nidas worldcommenter March 04 2014 at 12:30 AM

if it was not a market for drugs in the usa drug lords will never exist,stop buyng mexican drugs

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Ken March 04 2014 at 12:58 AM

Please watch that part about, "...ethnic Russians moved here in droves over the years." What in fact happened was that Stalin engineered artificial famine in Ukraine and exiled both ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. (Some have since returned.) Stalin resettled those "droves" of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and Crimea on purpose to create a population loyal to Moscow and clearly establishing that "interest" Putin is now claiming in "protecting" those Russians. Ukraine leaned towards Europe initially after its independence and I am not aware that there was risk of harm to those of Russian descent. Tension, maybe. We here in America still have Southerners who resent the presence of Yankees because of the Civil War. It happens.

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1 reply
thomcit Ken March 04 2014 at 1:45 AM

Your relevant point does not make my point untrue. The conditions are vastly different. Evaluating history is absolutely essential. But, one must evaluate it, keeping in mind the differences that distinguish historical from present day issues.

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