Warning Shots Fired In Crimea As Observers Turned Away

Soldiers rebuffed international monitors trying to access Crimea. The region is occupied by Russian troops and is set to vote on joining Russia.
Posted at 8:32 PM, Mar 08, 2014

The struggle for the future of Crimea is still bloodless, but only just barely. New reports indicate warning shots have been fired at international monitors trying to enter Ukraine from the Crimean border. 

Military observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or the OSCE, have been invited into Crimea by the Ukraine, but not by Crimea's regional government. The monitors have twice tried to enter the region, but both times they've been turned away by armed guards. (Via CNN)

The organization's third attempt Saturday was met with gunfire, as armed guards fired warning shots to ward the mission off. An OSCE spokesperson told reporters the observers will continue trying to gain access to the region.

"We are going to keep trying to get that visit into the premises, into Crimea, so they can see what the facts are actually in the field." (Via CTV)

Crimea's parliament is holding a referendum on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia on Mar. 16, and tensions in the region have been steadily escalating ahead of the vote.

The news comes one day after a troop of armed pro-Russian soldiers stormed a Ukrainian military base Friday night. No shots were fired and the invaders left peacefully after negotiations with the Ukrainian troops. (Via CBC)

Military trucks bearing Russian license plates and carrying more armed soldiers were spotted moving into Crimea Saturday. The Pentagon estimates between 20 and 30 thousand Russian soldiers are currently occupying Crimea. (Via ITV)

And Ukrainian soldiers claim a Ukraine observation plane came under fire while flying over Crimea, though thankfully no injuries were reported in connection with that incident. (Via International Business Times)

As the Crimean standoff wears on, several prominent observer groups have expressed concern about a media crackdown. At least three local station have been taken off the air in Crimea, and journalists from many different sources have reportedly been harassed and even assaulted. (Via Amnesty International, Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, Committee to Protect Journalists)

One reporter tells MSNBC Crimea's increasingly hostility to the outside world could signal the Kremlin's intentions towards the region, regardless of which way the referendum goes.

"We've got military crackdown, media crackdown, it does look like Putin's setting the conditions on the ground that analysts tell us he wants, which is owning Crimea."

Both France and the U.S. affirmed Saturday that Ukraine's referendum has no legal basis, and Ukraine's new government has called the upcoming vote unconstitutional.