Pro-Russian forces seize Ukraine navy headquarters

Pro-Russian forces have taken control of Ukraine’s navy headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to make Crimea part of Russia.

Witnesses said at least 200 of the unarmed self-defense forces entered the base Wednesday and put up the Russian flag. There was no violence; Ukrainian service members on site reportedly did not resist the takeover.

Thousands of Russian soldiers have overtaken Crimea in recent weeks. The majority-Russian region voted in a referendum Sunday to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves to annex Crimea have angered the United States and European Union, which have declared the referendum illegal and imposed sanctions on Russia in response.Putin told the Russian parliament Tuesday the vote was legal and that Crimea has always been an “inalienable” part of Russia.Putin criticized Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for placing Crimea under Ukrainian control in 1954. When Crimea ended up as part of independent Ukraine in 1991, Putin said Russia had been “plundered.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of university students in Washington that he was surprised and disappointed by what he called Putin’s interpretation of the facts.

Kerry said Russia is on the wrong side of history, and that when a region secedes from a country, it does so under the constitution — not at the butt of a gun.

But Russia has shown no signs of backing down. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kerry by phone Tuesday that U.S. sanctions on Russia are unacceptable and will have consequences.

Crimean officials say the final ballot count from Sunday’s referendum shows 97 percent of voters favored independence from Ukraine.

Senior White House officials say they have “concrete evidence” that some ballots were marked before the vote.

(Archive photo of navy ships in Sevastopol, 2007: cpapm)