KIEV/BRUSSELS/FEDOSIYA: A Ukrainian air force commander is being held after his base in Crimea was stormed by pro-Russian forces, and the acting president called for his release Sunday.
Col. Yuliy Mamchur is the commander of the Belbek Air Force base near Sevastopol, which was taken over Saturday by forces who sent armored personnel carriers smashing through the base’s walls and fired shots and stun grenades. One Ukrainian serviceman was reported wounded in the clash. It was unclear if the forces, who didn’t bear insignia, were Russian military or local pro-Russia militia.
Ukraine President Oleksandr Turchynov, in a statement, said Mamchur was “abducted” by the forces. He didn’t specify where Mamchur is believed to be held.
However, prominent politician Vitali Klitschko said Sunday that Mamchur is being held by the Russian military in a jail in Sevastopol, the Crimean city that is the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Meanwhile NATO’s top military commander said Russia had built up a “very sizeable” force on its border with Ukraine and Moscow may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, in its sights after annexing Crimea.
Russia was acting more like an adversary than a partner, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said, and the 28-nation alliance should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe.
Russian troops, using armoured vehicles, automatic weapons and stun grenades, seized some of the the last military facilities under Ukrainian control on Saturday in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed the day before.
Breedlove was one of several Western officials and politicians to warn on Sunday that Russia may not stop there in a crisis that has taken East-West relations lurching back towards the Cold War since pro-Western protests in Ukraine ousted Moscow-allied President Viktor Yanukovich last month.