The Slatest

Ukraine Accuses Russia of “Invasion” of Mainland as Referendum Nears

Employees prepare the polling booth in one of the polling stations of Sevastopol on March 15, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea

Photo by VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

For the first time, Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops outside the Crimean peninsula the day before a controversial referendum on whether the area should become part of Russia. The Foreign Ministry said about 80 Russian troops had seized the village of Strilkove but the Associated Press also talks to a spokesman for the Ukraininan border guard that claims 120 troops took control of a natural gas distribution center in the area. The Ukrainian “foreign ministry declares the military invasion by Russia and demands the Russian side immediately withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine,” according to a statement quoted by AFP.

The latest troop movement comes on the same day as Russia’s foreign ministry said the country has received numerous requests to “protect peaceful civilians” in eastern Ukraine, reports the Wall Street Journal. It marks the first time Russian and Ukrainian forces could face off outside the Crimean Peninsula and appears to suggest Moscow may be testing Kiev’s willingness and capability to push back against Russian forces.

Meanwhile, Russia stood alone at the United Nations Saturday as it became the only country in the Security Council to vote against a resolution that declared Sunday’s referendum illegal. The move was hardly a surprise as everyone expected Russia to veto the resolution that claimed the referendum “can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea.” In the only move that was slightly unexpected, China opted to abstain, which is “a possible sign of Russian isolation,” notes the Washington Post. The resolution placed China in a rather uncomfortable corner because it is trying to play a middle ground of not going against its strategic partner while it also “does not want to be seen as endorsing the secession of Crimea, because that might encourage a vote on independence for Tibet or Taiwan,”  details the New York Times.