MOSCOW – A Ukrainian army colonel whose troops have been challenged by Russian marines for control of a Crimean air base threatened Thursday to open fire unless given new and formal instructions to hold off by his nation's defense ministry, the UNIAN news agency reported.
"Being under constant pressure from Russian Federation army servicemen and local militia … we are acting on oral orders to hold on, not to give in to provocations and not to open fire," Col. Yuly Mamchur said in a statement quoted by UNIAN news agency. "In case you don't provide corresponding decisions, we will be forced to act in accordance with Ukraine army statute, including opening fire.
"We have a clear understanding that we won't be able to resist the Russian troops prevailing in arms and preparedness," he added, "but we are ready to fulfill our duty to the end."
Mamchur's troops were protecting the military base in Belbek late last month when Russian forces took control of the airstrip and more than three dozen Ukrainian MiG-29 jets. His forces continue to control administrative buildings and have firearms and ammunition, Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Alexei Mazepa told the The Times by telephone. The Russians are pressing Mamchur and his troops to hand over their guns and leave the base, Mazepa said.
"Russian military aggression is in full swing as they are continuing to expand their numbers and firepower all across Crimea, blocking our units and demanding they surrender," Mazepa said. "Today they broke in and captured our communication and interception station in the town of Zelenogorsk, threatening to use arms if resisted."
Russia's Black Sea fleet, which has long leased bases on the peninsula from Ukraine, sank a third old boat in the the mouth of Donuzlav Bay in the northern part of Crimea, Mazepa said, in a continuing effort to block Ukrainian naval ships from leaving port.
Mazepa speculated that Russian forces might be eyeing a move into other parts of Ukraine.
"I don't see any other reason for this outright military sabotage action but part of their plan to invade [the] mainland part of eastern and southeastern Ukraine," Mazepa said. "They need to be sure our army and navy units stationed in Crimea will not be able to hit them in the back in case of an all-out military invasion."