Masked troops on Ukrainian base as pro-Russian forces tighten Crimea grip

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from CNN,

One moment Monday morning, a Ukrainian flag still was flying over a military base in Ukraine’s Crimea region — the base’s commander reportedly kidnapped by pro-Russian troops the day before.

Later Monday, masked troops were at the base, and the Ukrainian flag was gone.

The bloodless incursion by apparently pro-Russian forces onto the Ukrainian base in the city of Bakhchisaray — amid disputed accounts over whether the base commander had switched sides — was one of the latest encounters between pro-Moscow troops who are consolidating their hold on the Black Sea peninsula and Ukrainian forces who still are there.

The incident at the base came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel bluntly told Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone the Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia is illegal and would violate Ukraine’s constitution if it goes ahead on March 16.

Putin has defended breakaway moves by pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, where Russian forces have been tightening their grip on a region that has been the epicenter of a battle for influence among Moscow, Kiev and the West since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster last month.

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