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FILE - In this March 15, 2013 file photo, former Massachusetts Gov., and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney pauses while speaking at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. Romney has said he will not run for president again, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says he has a gut feeling Romney will run. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Ukraine says air force commander ‘abducted’ by pro-Russian forces
First Published Mar 23 2014 10:43 pm • Last Updated Mar 23 2014 10:43 pm

KIEV, Ukraine • A Ukrainian air force commander is being held after his base in Crimea was stormed by pro-Russian forces, and the acting president called for his release Sunday.

Col. Yuliy Mamchur is the commander of the Belbek Air Force base near Sevastopol, which was taken over Saturday by forces who sent armored personnel carriers smashing through the base’s walls and fired shots and stun grenades. One Ukrainian serviceman was reported wounded in the clash.

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Romney says Obama naïve on Russia

Washington » Mitt Romney said Sunday that President Barack Obama is naïve when it comes to Russia, has shown “faulty judgment” about Moscow’s intentions and could have done more to try to deter its annexation of Crimea.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee said Obama didn’t have the foresight to anticipate Russia’s moves and should have been working earlier with allies to make clear the penalties that Russia would face if it moved into Ukraine.

Romney did acknowledge that such steps may not have been enough to hold back Russia President Vladimir Putin.

“Had we communicated those things, there’s always the potential that we could have kept them from invading a country and annexing it into their own,” Romney said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

During the 2012 campaign, Romney took criticism from Obama for saying Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” rather than al-Qaida. Now Romney seems to be claiming the right to say, essentially, “I told you so.”

“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face,” Romney said.

He said the U.S. should now welcome nations that seek entry into NATO, should forgo cuts to the U.S. military budget and reconsider putting a missile defense system into the Czech Republic and Poland, as once planned.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who just returned from Ukraine, said it was Romney who was naive. Durbin, referring to Putin, a former officer in the Soviet KGB, said Putin is “a bully and we’ve got to call him for what he is. But this notion that some sanction is going to stop a former colonel in the KGB from his ambitions of a Russian empire is naïve.

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It was unclear if the forces, who didn’t bear insignia, were Russian military or local pro-Russia militia.

Ukraine President Oleksandr Turchynov, in a statement, said Mamchur was "abducted" by the forces. He didn’t specify where Mamchur is believed to be held.

However, prominent politician Vitali Klitschko said Sunday that Mamchur is being held by the Russian military in a jail in Sevastopol, the Crimean city that is the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Klitschko was one of the leaders of the three months of protests in Ukraine that culminated in late February with President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country and interim authorities taking power before a May 25 presidential election. The protests were triggered by Yanukovych’s decision to reject a deal for closer ties with the European Union and turn to Moscow instead.

Yanukovych’s ouster was denounced by Russia and much of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population as a coup. Soon thereafter, Russian forces took control of Crimea and the region held a referendum to break off from Ukraine and join Russia.

Russia formally annexed Crimea last week, a move that Western countries say is illegitimate. The U.S. and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia in the dispute, but Moscow appears unmoved.

On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian flag was now flying over 189 military facilities in Crimea. It didn’t specify whether any Ukrainian military operations there remained under Ukrainian control.

At a Ukrainian marines base in Feodosia, troops were negotiating with Russian forces on handing over the base, Lt. Anatoly Mozgovoi told The Associated Press. The marines were loading 50-caliber machine guns into armored personnel carriers to take them to the base armory, but Mozgovoi said they hope to hold on to heavy weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and cannon.


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"I think from my personal opinion, the Russian Federation has enough weapons," he said.

In Donetsk, one of the major cities in eastern Ukraine, about 5,000 people demonstrated in favor of holding a referendum on secession and absorption into Russia.

Eastern Ukraine is the country’s industrial heartland and was Yanukovych’s support base. Donetsk authorities on Friday formed a working group to hold a referendum, but no date for it has been set.

Russia has deployed thousands of troops in its regions near the Ukrainian border and concerns are high that it could use unrest in the east as a pretext for crossing the border.

On Sunday, Russian deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the number of Russian troops in the area of the Ukrainian border does not exceed international treaty limits.

———

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Adam Pemble in Feodosia contributed to this report.



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