SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) - Dozens of military trucks carrying armed soldiers have been seen in Crimea today as Russia reinforces its presence in the disputed Ukrainian peninsula.
The Russians have denied their armed forces are active in Crimea, but an Associated Press reporter trailed one military convoy that included vehicles with Russian license plates and numbers indicating that they were from the Moscow region.
A Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces tells the AP that witnesses reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea last night. He says the equipment doesn't have insignia identifying it as Russian, but he says "we have no doubt as to their allegiance." Seleznyov said.
The amphibious operation appears to be one of the largest movements of Russian military forces since they appeared in Crimea a week ago.
The strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sent President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) fleeing to Russia. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based there, as is Ukraine's.
An Associated Press reporter says pro-Russian forces have refused to let a foreign military mission enter Crimea.
The multinational group of military officers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was attempting to enter the embattled Ukrainian peninsula from the north. The armed men told them they had no authorization to enter Crimea.
After the officers had stopped, the armed men fired warning bursts of automatic weapons fire into the air to make other unidentified vehicles halt. No injuries were reported.
The AP reporter says the group will likely return to the Ukrainian city of Kherson where it spent the night.
Russia and Ukraine are locked in a tense standoff over Crimea.
Russian news agencies says Moscow is considering a freeze of U.S. military inspections under arms control treaties in retaliation to Washington's decision to halt military cooperation with Russia.
Agencies on Saturday carried a statement by an unidentified Defense Ministry official saying that Moscow sees the U.S. move as a reason to suspend U.S. inspections in Russia in line with the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and the 2011 Vienna agreement between Russia and NATO on confidence-building measures.
Such comments carried by Russian news agencies are used to convey government statements.
The U.S. and the European Union have introduced sanctions over Russia in response to its move to send troops that have taken control of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.