First he was abducted by unidentified gunmen. Then, he wasn't. Now, Robert Serry, the United Nations' special envoy for the Ukraine crisis, is leaving the Crimean peninsula as fast as his plane can return him to Kiev.
On Wednesday, officials at the Ukrainian foreign ministry claimed that Serry had been abducted while traveling in Crimea, but those reports turned out to be incorrect. According to James Mates of ITV News, Serry's car was blocked by thugs who wanted him to come with them. Serry refused and left the car, hiding out in a café while pro-Russian militias blocked the entrance to the eatery.
The entire episode played out live on Twitter:
UN special advisor Robert Serry had been visiting navy commander when his car was blocked. Stand off followed #Ukraine— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
He refused to go with men blocking car, got out and walked until he found coffee shop. He's asked ITV News team to stay with him. #Ukraine— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
Outside coffee shop are men in combat fatigues blocking the door. Some wear pro Russia black and gold arm band. Not allowing anyone in/out— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
View of militia from inside coffee shop where UN envoy Robert Serry is blockaded inside pic.twitter.com/ojbAruMzyW— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
UN special envoy Robert Serry's assistant says she saw at least one man with a gun among group who blocked his car. #Ukraine— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
Robert Serry has now agreed to go straight to the airport and end his mission in #Crimea— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
Crowd chant Russia Russia as UN envoy leaves coffee shop and scrambles into waiting car#Crimea— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
Car moves slowly off to cries of Crimea Russiia #Ukraine— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
Very unpleasant incident over. Robert Serry said v happy to leave #crimea if it helped de escalate the situation.— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) March 5, 2014
The U.N. has been eager to carve out a diplomatic role for itself in Crimea, and on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon instructed Serry, his special envoy, to travel to Crimea and try to mediate a political settlement between Kiev and pro-Russian leaders there. But Crimea's new leadership refused to extend an invitation to Serry, and unidentified armed men controlling Crimea's key airports refused to permit him to land.
Serry, a former Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, finally arrived in Crimea this week to begin talks with key players.
Serry was accosted by a group of about 10 to 15 men, some of them carrying arms and dressed in fatigues, following a visit to Ukraine's regional navy headquarters on Wednesday. The men, who didn't reveal where they were from, threatened Serry, saying he "should leave Crimea and go to the airport" immediately, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters in an audio press conference from Kiev. When Serry refused to head to the airport, the men blocked his car from moving, forcing him to head back toward his hotel on foot. Serry stopped at a local café, where he placed a call to Eliasson and hid out with the ITV crew.
Eliasson denied reports in the press indicating Serry had been kidnapped. He said Serry was not traveling with a U.N. security detail and had relied on Ukrainian authorities to ensure his safety. Given Wednesday's drama, it seems like that may have been a mistake.
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