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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov attend a rally at Red Square on March 18, 2014 in Moscow.
A member of a Pro-Russian self-defense force takes down a Ukrainian Navy flag, left, as the other raises the Russian flag at the Ukrainian Navy headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 19, 2014.  Andrew Lubimov—AP

Pro-Russian Forces Seize Ukrainian Naval Base

Mar 19, 2014

Hundreds of Crimean forces stormed a Ukrainian naval base in the port of Sevastopol on Wednesday, one day after the fatal shooting of a Ukrainian officer marked the first violent outbreak in the three-week standoff.

The AP reports that no shots were fired as hundreds of pro-Russian forces tore down the naval compound's fences and swarmed into a square adjacent to the Ukrainian navy's headquarters. According to an AP photographer on the scene, Ukrainian servicemen stood guard outside the building as the forces raised a Russian flag above the square.

The fatal shooting of a Ukrainian officer in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on Tuesday threatened to draw Russian and Ukrainian troops into open battle. Ukraine's new government claimed the attackers wore Russian uniforms, though the reports could not be independently verified. Kiev reacted to the news by authorizing soldiers to use live fire against attackers, according to Reuters, making standoffs outside of the Ukrainian bases all the more combustible.

Even as Ukraine's prime minister darkly warned of a shift from a "political to a military stage" of the conflict, the political theater of Crimea's annexation continued. Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by Crimea's new leaders, formally signed a treaty of annexation of Crimea in a grand hall of the Kremlin on Tuesday. The borders have been formally redrawn, but the skirmishes at military bases continue.

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