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Russian troops increase presence in Crimea, reports say

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Dozens of military trucks transporting heavily armed soldiers rumbled over Crimea's rutted roads Saturday as Russia reinforced its armed presence on the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea. Moscow's foreign minister ruled out any dialogue with Ukraine's new authorities, whom he dismissed as the puppets of extremists.

The Russians have denied their armed forces are active in Crimea, but an Associated Press reporter trailed one military convoy Saturday afternoon from 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Feodosia to a military airfield at Gvardeiskoe north of Simferopol, over which a Russian flag flew.

Some of the army green vehicles had Russian license plates and numbers indicating that they were from the Moscow region. Some towed mobile kitchens and what appeared to be mobile medical equipment.

The strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sparked by President Victor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia led to his downfall. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, as is Ukraine's.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told AP that witnesses had reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea on Friday night after apparently having crossed the Straits of Kerch, which separates Crimea from Russian territory.

"Neither the equipment, nor the paratroopers have insignia that identify them as Russian, but we have no doubt as to their allegiance," Seleznyov said.

The amphibious operation appeared to be one of the largest movements of Russian military forces since they appeared in Crimea a week ago.

Seleznyov also said a convoy of more than 60 military trucks was spotted Saturday heading from Feodosia toward Simferopol, the regional capital. An AP reporter caught up with the convoy and trailed it to a Russian-controlled airfield. In the rear of the vehicles, heavily armed soldiers could be seen, though none appeared to have identifying badges or insignia. Soldiers spat at the reporters following them.

A small plane belonging to the Ukrainian border guards was fired on by "extremists" using automatic weapons as it flew near the administrative border of Crimea, but took evasive maneuvers and escaped unscathed, the Interfax news agency reported, quoting Ukrainian officials.

The regional parliament in Crimea has set a March 16 referendum on leaving Ukraine to join Russia, and senior lawmakers in Moscow said they would support the move, ignoring sanctions threats and warnings from President Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.

While the U.S. and the EU urged Russia to engage in dialogue with new Ukrainian authorities, the Kremlin has refused to do so, denouncing the change of power in Ukraine as an "unconstitutional coup."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow sees no sense in talking with Ukraine's new authorities because, in his view, they kowtow to radical nationalists.

"The so-called interim government isn't independent. It depends, to our great regret, on radical nationalists who have seized power with arms," he said at a news conference. He said that nationalist groups use "intimidation and terror" to control Ukraine.

Despite that tough talk, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met Saturday with Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, the first such diplomatic contact since the crisis began. In a terse statement, the ministry said only that they discussed issues related to Russian-Ukrainian ties in a "sincere atmosphere."

At a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine's new foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsi, spoke hopefully about creation of a contact group made up of foreign ministers of various countries to mediate the crisis. Forming the group was an idea discussed during meetings between Ukraine's prime minister and European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

Deshchytsi said that he learned from mediators that Russia hasn't "categorically' refused the idea of permitting a contact group to help broker an end to the dispute.

"The Russians are thinking," Deshchytsi said, so there is "reason to hope." He reiterated that the new Ukrainian government understands it is vital to establish good relations with all neighbors, including Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow has no intention of annexing Crimea, but that its people have the right to determine the region's status in a referendum.

The Crimean referendum has been denounced by Ukraine's new government. The U.S. moved Thursday to impose its first sanctions on Russians involved in the military occupation of Crimea.

Speaking on the BBC on Saturday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that while there is no military response to the recent events of Crimea, the crisis was a reminder of threats to European security and stability.

"I do believe that politicians all over NATO will now rethink the whole thing about investment in security and defense," he told the BBC. "Obviously, defense comes at a cost but insecurity is much more expensive."

An international military mission composed of officers from the U.S. and 28 other nations tried again Saturday to enter Crimea, but it was turned back around the town of Armiansk by armed men.

An AP reporter traveling with the 54 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that after the group had stopped, the armed men fired bursts of automatic weapons fire to halt other unidentified vehicles. No injuries were reported.

In Simferopol, meanwhile, a public ceremony was held for the swearing-in of the first unit in the pro-Russia "Military Forces of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea." About 30 men armed with AK-47s, and another 20 or so unarmed, turned out. They ranged in age from teenagers to a man who looked to be about 60. They were sworn in at a park in front of an eternal flame to those killed in World War II.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Crimean prime minister, came to the ceremony and was greeted by the soldiers with shouts of "Commander!"

He said their main role, at least until the referendum, would be to "keep the peace." He said he didn't foresee any fighting with the Ukrainian soldiers still at bases in Crimea.

"We are not enemies with those soldiers who pledged loyalty to the Ukrainian state. They are not our enemies," Aksyonov said. He said they could safely leave Crimea if they wanted to.

In the week since Russia seized control of Crimea, Russian troops have been disarming Ukrainian military bases here. Some Ukrainian units, however, have refused to give up. Aksyonov has said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the region and have blockaded all military bases that haven't yet surrendered.

On Friday evening, pro-Russia soldiers tried to take over another Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, resulting in a tense standoff that lasted for several hours.

Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the base, said three dozen men wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms arrived late Friday. While one group climbed over a wall on one side of the base, another crashed a heavy military truck through the gates, Onishchenko said.

He said Saturday that they turned off power, cut telephone lines and demanded that about 100 Ukrainian troops, who barricaded themselves into one of the base buildings, surrender their weapons and swear allegiance to Russia. The invaders left around midnight.

No shots were fired in and no injuries were reported.

Russia has described the troops who wear green uniforms without insignia as local "self-defense forces." But Onishchenko said the troops who tried to overrun his base were clearly Russian.

"These were Russian servicemen specially ordered," he said. "Their watches were set to Moscow time. They spoke with Russian accents and they didn't hide their allegiance to the Russian Federation."

---

Dmitry Vlasov in Armiansk, Tim Sullivan in Simferopol, Mike Eckel and John-Thor Dahlburg in Kiev, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Dads aol March 10 2014 at 4:35 AM

Whether you like Obama or hate Obama, one thing is for sure, he has divided this country like never before. There is such hatred out there on both sides. Even congress can't get anything done because of their contempt for the other side. Sad times.
But I will tell you Silly People one thing here this is " NO GAME "
& I do not like him Myself...But he is the
Commander & Chief and " WAR is EMINENT ".
People really don't know what true WAR is here. War is when you need
60.000 to 80,000 BODYBAGS But in this case we could be looking at
150,00 ++++ especially if it goes Nuclear if this Happens you will need
Millions of bags

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Dads aol March 10 2014 at 5:04 AM

""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" WAR is EMINENT """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""

Flag Reply +1 rate up
furia001 March 09 2014 at 9:45 AM

PUTIN FAX OBAMA THE PROPERTY TITLE FOR CRIMERSA. AND THEN OBAMA RESPONDED, OKAY PUTIN, I HAVE A BUNCH OF THOSE, INCLUDING ALASKA AND HAWAII. THEN PUTIN SAY, HALL RIGHHTTY DEN.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
GUNSLINGER March 09 2014 at 9:40 AM

The Camo, not so much!!!!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
GUNSLINGER March 09 2014 at 9:39 AM

Nice AK in the picture!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
kent_hern GUNSLINGER March 09 2014 at 10:03 AM

Victor Tapner poem

'Kalashnikov'

I am promiscuous and unashamed.
My lovers take me to cool rooms
where I’m stroked by many hands.
I live secretly in the suburbs,
pampered and spared ordinary chores.
My lovers trust me not to let them down.

I sleep in strange places: on floors
of what were once apartment blocks;
amid rubble on the street
cradled in rough arms waiting for daybreak.
I’ve lain with the corpse of a boy
in the back of a burnt-out truck.

The touch of sweat is all my lovers leave.
At night they are led to empty cellars
where they give their bodies to pain.
I’ve seen them kneel in narrow alleys
murmuring, as though at prayer.
Such yearnings even I can’t satisfy.

One afternoon, on a hillside
I was brought to a fresh grave in the rain.
People were mourning a name
I’d hardly known: a one-night stand.
It’s at such times I laugh. Head raised,
I cackle at the heavens. I feel no loss.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
kkishb1999 March 08 2014 at 8:58 PM

Maybe Obama can draw another red line. Or offer them Universal health care.......No that would not work either.......It would just cost Russia more money......

Flag Reply +3 rate up
BOB March 08 2014 at 8:35 PM

Way to go King Obama. and the rest of the libs who despise the military. Reagans SDI would sure feel good about now. The current libs shot down the militarys latest proposal fro a missile def system and Barry wants to dismantle our military. Trouble is he wanted to give us away to the Muslims but now its going to be the Ruskies.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
3 replies
frozenbull March 08 2014 at 7:06 PM

Well Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry ,looks like Mr Putin ain't goin' anywhere too soon . Better get the lawn chairs out of the barn ,cause looks like we'll be sittin' a spell .

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
dapalmlv frozenbull March 08 2014 at 7:19 PM

Eventually the economic sanctions will hurt his country real bad especially when it comes to a food supply that they almost totally import. You sound like you are on Putin's side in this dispute SHAME!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
tonypuca March 08 2014 at 4:31 PM

I have read some comments that the US military has been gutted and is unable to do anything to Russia and even considering the people making these comments political agenda all I can say are they total idiots or just morons. No one with a brain doubts the military strength of the US is stronger than all the rest of the world's countries combined. Do these people really want us to start hitting Russia with nuclear warheads which will prompt them to retaliate. Let's see we'll going to just decide to kill 200 million people and have millions of ours killed and in the end have a world destroyed by radiation. If you want to say Obama isn't going to bomb Russia...say it...but don't say we aren't far and away the strongest military force in the world.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Craig March 08 2014 at 4:44 PM

Can you imagine if Russia decides they want Alaska back.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
3 replies
aol~~ 1209600

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