SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Russia and its sympathizers seized control of more Ukrainian military bases and facilities in Crimea on Monday, while Moscow issued threatening statements about eastern Ukraine that signalled Russia's intention to play a significant role in the country's future.
At least four Ukrainian military bases, including one stocked with missiles, were overrun by armed men in uniforms who say they are members of local self-defence units, which are typically under the command of Russian military officers. The headquarters of the Ukrainian naval fleet had its electricity cut, and the director of a military hospital was ousted and a replacement installed by the pro-Russian militia that took over.
A foreboding sense of lawlessness is spreading ahead of a Sunday referendum in Crimea on whether to align with Russia or remain with Ukraine. Several activists critical of Russia's presence in the Crimean region were reported missing. Residents of the regional capital, Simferopol, reported being visited by groups that stole or destroyed their passports, which are required as identification to vote.
Crimean officials are acting as if the referendum's outcome is a foregone conclusion. On a website the Crimean parliament started to drum up support for the referendum, an online poll showed votes to join Russia outnumber the votes to remain with Ukraine almost three to one. Every article on the site put a positive spin on a union with Russia, with one describing the thousands of Russian tourists eager to vacation in Crimea.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, the United States will not recognize the results of the referendum.
"Any increase of the autonomy of Crimea should be done not under the barrel of a gun but in a clear, transparent and constitutional process," Pyatt said.
Senior administration officials in Washington said the ball was in Russia's court to de-escalate the situation, a prospect they acknowledged looked increasingly unlikely, or risk U.S. sanctions.
Officials said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had declined an invitation to go to Russia and speak directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he had instead sent a list of questions to Moscow over the weekend.
Among the questions, delivered with a proposal to discuss the answers with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, was whether Russia was prepared to take steps such as working to stop the referendum and open direct talks with the new government in Ukraine.
The only response from Moscow appeared to come when Russian television showed Lavrov telling Putin U.S. proposals for resolving the crisis were unacceptable because they recognized the legitimacy of the Kyiv government.
Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing masked men of firing at peaceful protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
"Russia is outraged by the chaos, which is currently ruling in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of militants of the so-called Right Sector amid utter connivance of the new authorities, as they call themselves," the statement said.
-- The Washington Post