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Crimea military center shooting resembles sniper fire at Kiev’s Maidan

Published time: March 19, 2014 18:18
Edited time: March 19, 2014 21:14
Special forces banish an unidentified man from the Photogrammtry Center of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kubanskaya Street in Simferopol. Unidentified people allegedly attempted to seize the center on March 18. (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)

Special forces banish an unidentified man from the Photogrammtry Center of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kubanskaya Street in Simferopol. Unidentified people allegedly attempted to seize the center on March 18. (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)

The shooting in the Crimean city of Simferopol bears a strong resemblance to the actions of snipers in central Kiev, as February violent clashes, local prosecution said. Russia considers the shooting that left two killed and two injured a “provocation.”

Speaking at the press-briefing the next day after the gunfire in Simferopol, Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, shed very little light on what exactly happened outside the Ukrainian military topography and navigation center.

Stressing that the investigation is still on-going, she recounted how several unarmed officers of the Ministry of Defense of Russia had come to oversee progress on a joint matter regarding mapping. Their visit was earlier agreed with the commander of the Ukrainian armed forces and with Kiev.

Several of their colleagues, who at the time were outside the building of the compound, were fired upon.

“While cartographers were on the territory of the center, some self-defense unit representatives, protecting the center from the outside, came under fire,” Poklonskaya said.

Bullets came from a similar direction, but with varying trajectories, resulting in the death of two officers on both sides and a further two injuries.

Single shots were fired “simultaneously in the direction of Crimean self-defense units and Ukrainian servicemen.” Investigators have found bullets at the scene, but Poklonskaya was reluctant to reveal what kind of gun was used.

“Experts familiar with the crime scene believe the crimes perpetrated today bear a strong resemblance to the actions of snipers on the Maidan on February 18-21,” she summed up.

If this turns out to be the case, she said, it is possible that the attack was possibly aimed at “provoking clashes between the servicemen of Ukraine and Crimea.”

Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya (RIA Novosti / Taras Litvinenko)

Now investigators are working on establishing a number of attackers and their exact location.

Earlier, the local interior ministry said in a press release that the shoots came from a house under construction opposite the center.

There has also been information that a sniper was detained. But later this information appeared to be bogus.

At the briefing, the prosecutor stressed that no one had been detained in connection with the shooting.

Despite very little details immediately available, shortly after news of the shooting broke, Western media was fast to point a finger at Russia, blaming the attack on “pro-Russian forces.” This view was shared in Kiev, which in an immediate reaction authorized Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea to use firearms to “defend their lives."

However, in Russia the shooting is widely seen as a provocation after Crimea and Sevastopol were accepted into the Russian Federation and the treaty was signed.

"What happened in Simferopol yesterday was beyond any doubt a provocation and its style suggests that the sniper there acted in the same manner as the ones on Maidan," Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Aleksandr Vitko. "Two people died as a result," he added. "Nonetheless, the hotheads in the incumbent Ukrainian leadership said something about permission to shoot. I'd like to warn everyone in this connection and especially the men and officers of the Ukrainian Naval Forces, God forbid you to make a single shot, even from a slingshot. Matches are not toys, and I'd like to ask everyone to understand it in the very literal sense."

The situation in Crimea was discussed in NATO between Russia’s Ambassador to the Alliance and its military officials.

"We have informed them that we see this incident as a provocation. The Russian troops were not involved in it; there was no storming of the Ukrainian military base as claimed by the authorities in Kiev. The incident is now being investigated, those guilty will not walk away from the responsibility," Russian Ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, was cited by Interfax as saying.

Crimean authorities have shared this stance, saying that the shooting in Simferopol was indeed a provocation aimed at spreading a “spirit of hatred and fear.”

“Such provocative tactics of putting in confrontation opposing parties was systematically employed at Maidan in Kiev. In a similar way provocateurs are trying to blow up the peace and harmony in our house,” Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian coup-appointed Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a note of protest to Russia following the death of a Ukrainian soldier in Simferopol.

“Today he [the Russian charge d'affaires in Kiev, Andrey Vorobyev] was once again given a note against provoking armed incidents, violence and murder of Ukrainian soldiers," the Ministry said.

A criminal case has been launched after the shooting and the charges are in line with Article 115 of the Ukrainian criminal code – murder. But there is still a lot that is unclear about the attack. It was even less known on the evening it took place.

This, however, was not an obstacle for a stream of conflicting reports, speculating that Russian forces were “storming the base.”

RT’s team was one of the first to arrive at the scene. As they came to the base, RT producer, Lida Vasilevskaya, reported the center was already surrounded by men in camouflage and the situation was "calm."

She learned that the majority of the staff working at the military topography research center are women. The center’s area is rather small, and servicemen have only six machine guns and three Makarov guns to provide security.

It was confirmed to RT that the shooting did take place, but by that time it was unclear where the shooting had come from. This is yet to be investigated.