MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin talked tough but cooled tensions in the Ukraine crisis in his first comments since its president fled, saying Russia has no intention “to fight the Ukrainian people” but reserved the right to use force.
As the Russian president held court Tuesday in his personal residence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kiev’s fledgling government and Moscow agreed to sit down with NATO.
Some 16,000 Russian troops are currently on the Crimean Peninsula.
Tensions continued Tuesday when unarmed Ukrainian soldiers marched to their air base under Russian occupation. The Russians reportedly fired warning shots in the air, but it did not deter the Ukrainians. TIME’s Simon Shuster was at the scene, tweeting events as they unfolded.
Ukraine column has reached Russian checkpoint. Russians begin firing in the air. Ukrainians keep marching— Simon Shuster (@shustry) March 4, 2014
Face off between Ukraine base commander Col. Yuli Manchur and Russian officer at occupied Belbek airbase pic.twitter.com/6N10wuezef— Simon Shuster (@shustry) March 4, 2014
Truck-mounted gun aiming towards the camera man and Ukrainian soldiers at Belbek pic.twitter.com/eEq5w3ICBC— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) March 4, 2014
In the end, the Russians backed down, allowing 10 Ukraine soldiers to return to the base.
- Obama: Ukraine can be a friend of the West, Russia
- U.S. backs Ukraine with $1 billion in energy aid
- Ukrainian team united despite turmoil at home
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An interesting look at the troubled history of Crimea – From Genghis Khan to the Charge of the Light Brigade
And a primer on why Crimea is at the center of these tensions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.