SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Ukraine will never recognize the results of the weekend referendum that favored Crimea’s secession and it will never accept the annexation of the peninsula by Russia, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said Tuesday.
“Our land will never be torn away,” Turchynov said Tuesday, according to the UNIAN news agency. “The Ukrainian people and the entire civilized world will never recognize the annexation of Ukrainian land.”
Turchynov’s comments came as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties with Crimea’s Moscow-backed leaders appropriating the region and its vital naval port of Sevastopol less than two days after its voters backed secession in the widely criticized referendum. Though Putin’s move requires ratification by the Russian parliament and the Constitutional Court, those steps are seen as formalities.
Also Tuesday, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Russian snipers had opened fire in the center of Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, killing one Ukrainian army serviceman and injuring at least two others. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry later ordered its servicemen to fire back if attacked, UNIAN reported.
Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported that one member of the local self-defense forces was killed and two wounded by gunshots in Simferopol.
Many who oppose Russia’s incursion into the region, including the United States and others in the West, criticized the developments as more evidence of a dangerous Russian power move and questioned the results of the overwhelmingly pro-Russia referendum.
“The fact remains that Crimea is not part of Russia, but it is part of Ukraine occupied by Russia the way the Baltics, part of Poland and western Ukraine were occupied by the Soviet Union back in the 1940s,” political scientist Vadim Karasyov said in an interview.
Karasyov said the jubilation in the Kremlin after the referendum may be the celebration of a Pyrrhic victory for Moscow. Russia may face tougher challenges than the sanctions imposed thus far on some Russian and Ukrainian officials by the United States and European Union and the threat of more penalties if Moscow does not back down in Crimea.
“I am sure the United States and Western Europe will consolidate their efforts and find a way to make a speedy transition from the meaningless sanctions to a number of more effective measures to engage Russia in an economic Cold War which will be a test of whether Putin is bluffing or whether Russia is really reasserting itself as an arrogant Soviet-style superpower,” said Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, a Kiev-based think tank.
Russia controlled the peninsula until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred authority to Ukraine in 1954 in what was then a shift between two republics of the Soviet Union. Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.
Some analysts said referendum results indicating 80% voter turnout and 90% in favor of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine appeared bogus.
Col. Igor Bedzay, head of Novofedorovka garrison, 40 miles northwest of Simferopol, said his Ukrainian navy air force unit officers and their families traditionally vote at the garrison polling station and that the election turnout there in the last decade had never been more than 30%.
“I know that on Sunday the turnout at our polling station was even lower but in the end the commission said that the turnout was 80% and over 90% of them for breaking away from Ukraine,” Bedzay said with a sad smile, shaking his head. “No wonder Moscow needed this referendum as a smokescreen to grab our land.”
Karaysyov said: “Putin, it seems, just couldn’t resist the temptation to stuff the ballots even in his own pocket referendum.”
Putin, in a speech at the Kremlin, blamed Ukraine’s “nationalists, Russophobes and anti-Semites” who he said came to power in Ukraine last month when the country’s pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovich, fled in the face of protests.
Putin refused to acknowledge that Russian troops had invaded Crimea before the referendum. His forces, wearing unmarked uniforms, largely took control of the peninsula late last month and have been blockading Ukrainian military personnel in their bases since, though Putin, as he has in the past, referred to the invaders as Crimean “self-defense forces.”
“Esteemed residents of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, all of Russia admires your fortitude, dignity and courage,” he said in his televised speech, referring to the port where Russia’s Black Sea fleet has long leased its bases. “It is you who have resolved the fate of Crimea.”
Putin said there could have been casualties but that “there was not a single clash in Crimea and there were no human casualties.”
But late Tuesday afternoon, Russian snipers in Simferopol killed the Ukrainian serviceman and injured others as Russian troops tried to break into the Ukrainian army cartographic unit as the Ukrainian servicemen barricaded themselves inside, Alexei Mazepa, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s regional spokesman said in an interview.
Russian troops opened fire Monday night too when they stormed a Ukrainian army radar station in the village of Plodove, southwest of Simferopol, said the unit’s deputy commander, Maj. Valery Pikovets.
“They arrived in two cars armed with Kalashnikovs and machine guns and started shooting over our heads, ordering us to lie down on the ground face down,” Pikovets said in an interview Tuesday. “Then they took our commander and dragged him to the command station, where they shot down the locks on the door and sabotaged the radar, rendering it inactive.”
Pikovets said the gunmen took commander Lt. Col. Anatoly Kalyan away in a car and he was still missing as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Itar-Tass report said that the fatal shooting Tuesday involved self-defense fighters who encountered gunfire while looking into a report of “a group of armed men” being detected in a building in an area of Kubanskaya Street in Simferopol.