Sense of lawlessness spreads in Ukraine

More military bases overrun in Crimea; activists are missing

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SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Russia and its sympathizers on Monday seized control of more Ukrainian military bases and facilities in Crimea, while Moscow issued threatening statements about eastern Ukraine that signaled Russia's intention to play a significant role in the country's future.

At least four Ukrainian military bases, including one stocked with missiles, were overrun by armed men in uniforms who say they are members of local self-defense units, which are typically under the command of Russian military officers. The Ukrainian naval fleet's headquarters had its electricity cut, and a military hospital's director was ousted and a replacement installed by the pro-Russian militia that took over.

A foreboding sense of lawlessness is spreading ahead of a Sunday referendum in Crimea on whether to align with Russia or remain with Ukraine. Several activists critical of Russia's presence in the Crimean region were reported missing. Residents of the regional capital, Simferopol, reported being visited by groups that stole or destroyed their passports, which are required as identification to vote.

Crimean officials are acting as if the referendum's outcome is a foregone conclusion. On a website that the Crimean parliament started to drum up support for the referendum, an online poll showed that votes to join Russia outnumber the votes to remain with Ukraine almost 3 to 1.

Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that the United States will not recognize the results of the referendum. "Any increase of the autonomy of Crimea should be done not under the barrel of a gun but in a clear, transparent and constitutional process," he said.

Officials said Secretary of State John Kerry had declined an invitation to go to Russia and speak directly to President Vladimir Putin, and that he had instead sent a list of questions to Moscow over the weekend. Among the questions, delivered with a proposal to discuss the answers with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, was whether Russia was prepared to take steps such as working to stop the referendum and open direct talks with the new government in Ukraine. Once Crimea was annexed, there would be little to talk about, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the bilateral communications.

The only response from Moscow appeared to come when Russian television showed Mr. Lavrov telling Mr. Putin that U.S. proposals for resolving the crisis were unacceptable because they recognized the legitimacy of the Kiev government.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing masked men of firing at peaceful protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

On Monday, Vitaly Klitschko, a boxer who helped lead protests against Ukraine's ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, and is running for president, visited Kharkiv, addressed a pro-Kiev crowd and was pelted with eggs by pro-Russian demonstrators.

Amid the tensions, officials at NATO on Monday said the alliance will start flying reconnaissance missions over Poland and Romania to peer into Ukraine. Such flights are fairly routine, but the announcement seemed calculated to remind Russia that its actions are being watched.

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