Witnesses report Russian troops unloaded more tanks in eastern Crimea late Friday night after they crossed the Straits of Kerch. Russian soldiers took over a ferry terminal in Kerch, which is only 12 miles by boat to Russia.
Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told The Associated Press 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.
He also said a convoy of more than 60 military trucks bearing no license plate numbers was headed from the eastern city of Feodosia toward the city of Simferopol, the regional capital.
Selenyov said AP: “Neither the equipment nor the paratroopers have insignia that identify them as Russian, but we have no doubt as to their allegiance.”
One AP reporter saw the same envoy on Saturday morning but could not see any identification on the soldiers. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said numerous times they did not add more troops, but Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea said occupying troops have doubled to 30,000. Crimea is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Crimea will hold a referendum on March 16 to decide if the peninsula will stay an autonomous republic of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian prime minister said the referendum is unconstitutional and declared Crimea will stay with Ukraine.
The West has been pushing Russia to talk to the new Ukrainian government, but Russian officials view the new leaders as illegitimate and will not hold talks until a real leader takes over in Kiev.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow sees no sense in having a dialogue 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.