Ukraine crisis: Armed men block two airports, Russia denies involvement

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The Belbek International Airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea has been taken over by the Russian troops, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Friday.

Calling the presence of the Russian troops a ‘military invasion’, Avakov said that dozens of armed men from the military units of the Russian Navy blockaded the airport.

Although no clashes have been reported, the airbase is not operating as normal.

Several Russians in military uniform were on Thursday seen patrolling the Simferopol Parliament. However, it is not yet confirmed who they were.

Meanwhile Avakov also said that around 120 armed men, whom he said belonged to the Russian armed forces, had entered a second airport in Simferopol early Friday.

Contrary to Avakov claims, Russia’s Black Sea fleet denied seizing the airport, as reported by Interfax news agency.

Masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the Parliament and government offices in Simferopol yesterday and raised the Russian flag over the government building.

Earlier, Ukraine’s interim government had warned Russia not to interfere in its political crisis. Armed men seized the area’s parliament building in Crimea and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof, in a show of defiance to the country’s new leaders.

Moreover, Russian fighter jets flew over Ukrainian border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovich is expected to appear before reporters in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don later on Friday, although President Vladimir Putin has not said whether Moscow will harbour the former leader who is on the run and wanted for mass murder.

The United States has told Russia to demonstrate in the next few days that it is sincere about a promise not to intervene in Ukraine, saying using force would be a grave mistake.

“We believe that everybody now needs to take a step back and avoid any kind of provocations,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “We want to see in the next days ahead that the choices Russia makes conform to this affirmation we received today.”