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SIMFEROPOL, March 19. /ITAR-TASS/. Crimea’s prosecutor’s office has confirmed that a Crimean self-defense soldier and a Ukrainian serviceman were killed and some people were wounded in a recent shooting incident, Crimean Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya said Wednesday, the Crimea Inform news agency reported.
Poklonskaya said that the actions of a sniper that reportedly opened fire in the Crimean capital Simferopol on Tuesday were similar to those of snipers who earlier shot people on Maidan in downtown Kiev.
“According to experts, who studied the circumstances of the crime and took part in an examination of the incident site, coincidence with actions of snipers on Maidan on February 18-21 is highly likely,” she said.
The Republic of Crimea, where most residents are Russians, held a referendum on March 16 on whether to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia or stay within Ukraine with broader autonomy. Some 97% of voters chose to join Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a decree to recognize Crimea as a sovereign and independent state. On Tuesday, the leaders of Russia and Crimea signed in Moscow a treaty on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation as a constituent member. A shooting incident was reported in Simferopol following the signing.
Poklonskaya said the goal of the shooting could have been “to provoke clashes between Ukrainian servicemen and servicemen of the Republic of Crimea.” She stressed that investigators are now trying to establish the exact circumstances of the shooting and the number of shooters.
According to the Crimean prosecutor, the circumstances were the following: a few unarmed Russian Defense Ministry officials, in line with a preliminary agreement with the commander of a Ukrainian military unit, as agreed with Kiev, arrived [at the unit] for joint cartography activities.
“When the cartographers were at the unit, shots were made at [Crimean] self-defense representatives who were beyond the protected area at that moment,” she said. Fire was delivered by single shots “simultaneously in the direction of Ukrainian servicemen and [Crimean] self-defense forces.”
As a result, Poklonskaya said, “a self-defense Cossack died and a second one was wounded; one [Ukrainian] military unit serviceman died and another was wounded.”
The Crimean prosecutor also said a criminal case was opened into the deadly shooting incident in Simferopol.
A recently intercepted phone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton gave grounds to assume snipers who had shot at protesters and police in Kiev during recent riots could have been hired by radical Ukrainian protest leaders.
Mass anti-government protests, often turning violent, started in Ukraine in November 2013 when the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
The Ukrainian protests resulted in a coup in the country in February 2014. President Viktor Yanukovich had to leave Ukraine citing security concerns. Yanukovich told reporters in south Russia on March 11 that he remained the legitimate Ukrainian president despite “an anti-constitutional seizure of power by armed radicals.”
Moscow considers Yanukovich to be the legitimate Ukrainian president and does not recognize the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian authorities.
President Putin said early Monday that Crimea’s decision to hold the referendum was in line with international law and the UN Charter, and was also in line with the precedent set by Kosovo.
The self-proclaimed new Ukrainian leadership and the West have cried foul over the Crimean referendum claiming the vote was illegal.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, transferred it to Ukraine's jurisdiction. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine.