– First bloodshed –
Putin had signed the Crimea treaty at this stage recognised by no nation besides Russia after stressing the move was done “without firing a single shot and with no loss of life.”
But the first bloodshed came to the rugged peninsula of two million people only hours later when a group of gunmen wearing masks but no military insignia stormed a Ukrainian military centre in Simferopol.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said one of its soldier died from a neck wound and another suffered various injuries.
The pro Russia Crimean police said a member of the local militias had also been killed. A spokeswoman blamed both casualties on shooting by unidentified assailants from a nearby location.
But the violence prompted Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to warn an emergency government meeting that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.
“Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian military servicemen, and that is a war crime,” the Wester-backed prime minister said.
The Ukrainian defence ministry soon authorised its soldier in Crimea to open fire in self defence for the first time.
Ukraine had previously forbidden its troops from shooting in some cases forcing them to stand guard at their bases with empty rifles to avoid provoking a offensive by its nuclear-armed giant that could spill into an all out war.
– NATO ‘deeply concerned’ –
Reports of the crisis turning deadly and fears what Biden called a further “land grab” by Putin prompted both expressions of concern and recollections of the horrors of prior European conflicts.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “deeply concerned” and urged all side to “take all possible steps to avoid further escalation.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry likened the “nationalistic fervour” fuelled in Russia by the crisis to the build-up before World War II.
“All you have to do is go back and read in history of the lead-up to World War II and the passions that were released with that kind of nationalistic fervour,” the top US diplomat said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seen as the most important potential powerbroker in the crisis said Russia was guilty of repeatedly breaking international law.
Moscow already risks expulsion from the G8 group of top nations and the promise of new US sanctions on top of Russian travel bans and asset freezes unveiled by the European Union and Washington on Monday.
US President Barack Obama called for a G7 summit next week in The Hague to discuss the escalating showdown.
Diplomats in Brussels said EU and Ukrainian leaders would on Friday sign the political portion of a landmark pact whose rejection by Yanukovych in November sparked the protests that led to his fall.