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New Confrontations Raise Tensions in Crimea as Russians Move In

 / Updated 
A Ukrainian officer stands outside the gate of a military base at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine,on March 8, 2014.Darko Vojinovic / AP

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A convoy of hundreds of Russian soldiers in 50 trucks and eight armored vehicles drove into a base near Crimea's capital Simferopol on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Russian troops reinforced their presence in Crimea overnight Friday as witnesses reported seeing another 200 military vehicles unload in Eastern Crimea, while unidentified soldiers seized a missile defense base.

"Neither the equipment nor the paratroopers have insignia that identify them as Russian, but we have no doubt as to their allegiance," Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told The Associated Press.

Russia claims its only troops in Crimea are those usually stationed with the Black Sea Fleet, which Washington has dubbed “Putin’s Fiction.” The Pentagon estimates there are about 20,000 Russians in Crimea, while Kiev says there are 30,000.

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A Ukrainian officer stands outside the gate of a military base at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine,on March 8, 2014.Darko Vojinovic / AP

Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the sieged base, said unmarked soldiers climbed the walls overnight and demanded that 100 Ukrainian troops swear allegiance to Russia.

No shots were fired in the standoff and no one appeared to be hurt, Reuters reported.

"Things are difficult and the atmosphere has got worse. The Russians threaten us when we go and get food supplies and point their guns at us," said Vadim Filipenko, the Ukrainian deputy commander at the base.

The show of force on Friday night was one of the largest since Russian military forces appeared in Crimea a week ago, according to the AP.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attained parliamentary approval to invade Ukraine one week ago. Crimea’s pro-Russian leadership decided Thursday that it is part of Russia and set a March 16 secession referendum for voters.

— Reuters and The Associated Press

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