Russian fighter jets on 'combat alert' amid continuing unrest in Crimea

27.02.2014 11:18

TheIndependent: ensions in the Crimea peninsula are increasing as armed men seized control of local government buildings this morning.

Fighter jets along Russia's western borders have been placed on combat alert, amid continuing unrest in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

"Constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions," Interfax quoted the Defence Ministry as saying.

"From the moment they received the signal to be on high alert, the air force in the western military region left for the ... air bases."

The apparent move comes as "criminals wearing military fatigues" seized the regional government and parliament headquarters on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula this morning.

Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov issued a warning to Russia that any movement of its troops from their naval base in the southern Crimea region "will be considered military aggression."

Mr Turchynov, who is also the head of Ukraine's armed forces, appealed for Moscow to adhere to the rules of an agreement which allows Russia's Black Sea fleet to be based in Sevastopol until 2042.

"I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet ... Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression," he declared.

Meanwhile, in a bid to distance the US from a Cold War-style confrontation with Russia, US Secretary of State John Kerry told President Vladimir Putin to bear in mind that "this is not Rocky IV"

He said Russia must be "very careful" in any decisions it makes surrounding Ukraine, and that a military intervention in Ukraine would be a "huge, grave mistake".

"This is not Rocky IV," he said, referring to the 1990 film depicting a battle between the East and West, in which Rocky Balboa fights then-Soviet Union boxer Ivan Drago.

"Believe me. We don't see it that way", he told US TV Network NBC News.

"I think Russia needs to be very careful in the judgments that it makes going forward here," he added. "We are not looking for confrontation. But we are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity here, the sovereignty of Ukraine.

"Russia has said it would do that and we think it's important that Russia keeps its word."

Mr Kerry's comments came after Mr Putin ordered the urgent drill test combat readiness of its military forces amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.

The exercise, involving 150,000 of precisely those forces which are likely to be used for any intervention, and their reserves, came amid growing claims that the country faces the threat of breaking up, as protests and violent sectarian clashes continue.

Russia said earlier this morning it would "uncompromisingly" defend the rights of its compatriots in Ukraine, while expressing concerns over "large-scale human rights violations", attacks and vandalism in the former Soviet republic.