Watch a Tense, Warning-Shot-Filled Standoff Between Russian and Ukrainian Troops in Crimea

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 4 2014 10:34 AM

Warning Shots in Crimea

My colleague Joshua Keating is providing excellent coverage of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine over on The World, but the above video is worth flagging here. It comes by way of Sky News, and will give you an on-the-ground look at just how tense the situation is in Crimea, where an estimated 16,000 Russian troops were deployed over the weekend as Moscow looked to tighten its grip on the Black Sea peninsula.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The dramatic footage is from the Belbek air base in Sevastopil, which pro-Russian troops had seized control of days ago. Today, around 300 Ukrainian soldiers reportedly marched toward the base to regain control, waving flags and singing their country's national anthem in the process. As you'll see, however, their progress was ultimately halted at a check-point near the base, where pro-Russian troops began firing warning shots. Here's Sky with the play-by-play:

At the Belbek base in Sevastopol, around a dozen Russian soldiers warned the unarmed Ukrainian servicemen to back away as they tried to take their positions back. The Russians then fired several shots into the air, saying they would shoot the Ukrainians. A video of the confrontation shows a Russian soldier saying to the Ukrainians: "I want your officer here. We'll be shooting your legs." A Ukrainian soldier responds: "You will pay for this. You'll be responsible." ...
Sky's Katie Stallard, who is at the airbase, said wives and mothers of the Ukrainian servicemen were standing between the two lines to prevent any bloodshed. She said: "There are around a dozen women, wives and mothers, standing in front of their men because they believe they (Russian soldiers) will be more reluctant to fire on them."
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The armed troops (it's a little unclear whether they are pro-Russian militia or full-fledged Russian troops, although the difference is largely one of semantics) eventually agreed to negotiations between commanders from both sides, but hours after the incident it remained unclear what the outcome of those talks was. Earlier in the day, Vladimir Putin ordered those Russian troops taking part in what Moscow is somewhat dubiously billing as "military exercises" close to the Ukrainian border to return to their bases, although current reports suggest that some troops are still on the ground near Sevastopil. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Kiev today in a show of support for the new government.

For much more on the unfolding crisis, head on over to The World.

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This post has been updated.