Gunmen Storm Crimea Hotel Full of Reporters on Eve of Referendum

TIME

Crimea’s police force said it was a training operation. The office of its separatist leader said it was a hunt for a cache of weapons. The local defense ministry said it was part of an “information war” with the Ukrainian government. But whatever it was, it resulted in roughly two dozen commandos taking over a major hotel on Saturday night in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.

Coming one day before the breakaway leaders of Crimea stage a referendum on their secession from Ukraine, the siege of the Hotel Moskva showed just how volatile and close to conflict the region remains. When the gunmen arrived, pulling up to the hotel in unmarked vans with tinted windows and no license plates, the hotel was packed with journalists, including this correspondent, who have arrived from around the world to cover Sunday’s historic referendum.

None of the troops wore any identifying insignia, much…

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