(Reuters) – The United States warned Moscow it was on a “dark path” to isolation on Wednesday after Russian troops backed by unarmed volunteers stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol and raised their flag.
The dramatic seizure came as Russia and the West dug in for a long confrontation over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, with the United States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation,” said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, referring to reports of armed attacks against Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea.
Biden was in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, part of a quick trip to reassure Baltic allies worried about what an emboldened, aggressive Russia might mean for their nations. Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, are NATO members.
“There is an attempt, using brutal force, to redraw borders of the European states and to destroy the post-war architecture of Europe,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said.
The United Nations said Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will push for a peaceful solution to the crisis when he meets Putin in Moscow on Thursday and when he travels to Kiev on Friday.
Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making the Ukrainian region part of Russia by the end of the week, despite threats of further sanctions from Washington and Brussels.
The Russian military moved swiftly to neutralize any threat of armed resistance in Crimea.
“This morning they stormed the compound. They cut the gates open, but I heard no shooting,” said Oleksander Balanyuk, a captain in the navy, walking out of the compound in his uniform and carrying his belongings.
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