SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 controlled all access to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered, Crimea’s new leader said.
The West has joined the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev in demanding that Russia pull its forces from Crimea, but little progress was reported after a flurry of diplomatic activity in Paris on Wednesday involving U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The European Union leaders will meet for an emergency session in Brussels on Thursday to decide what sorts of sanctions they can impose on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Moscow has threatened to retaliate if any punitive measures are put in place.
A U.N. special envoy sent to Crimea came under threat from armed men who forced him to leave the region.
Concern that the turmoil could engulf eastern Ukraine grew after hundreds of demonstrators – many chanting “Russia! Russia! – stormed a government building on Wednesday in Donetsk, a major industrial center near the Russian border.
Clashes between protesters and police broke out early Thursday in Donetsk as police cleared demonstrators from the building. Dozens were detained.
The European Union on Wednesday extended $15 billion in aid to help support the new Ukrainian government, which took over in late February after months of protests drove out the Moscow-supported president, Viktor Yanukovych.
The EU also imposed asset freezes against 18 people held responsible for embezzling state funds in Ukraine, including Yanukovych, his son and some of his closest allies.
Crimea’s new leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said his government was in regular contact with the Russian officials, including those in a large Russian delegation now in Crimea.
Speaking at Crimea’s government meeting late Wednesday, Aksyonov said the strategic peninsula is fully under the control of riot police and security forces joined by about 11,000 “self-defense” troops. All or most of these troops are believed to be Russian, even though the Russian president and defense minister have denied sending in the military other than those stationed at the home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.