When a convoy of Russian military vehicles unloaded dozens of armed troops into this sleepy Crimean port town Saturday, residents thronged around them honking car horns, snapping pictures and waving Russian flags.

Although the Russian-speaking servicemen bore no insignia, their vehicles had Russian military plates and there was no doubt among residents they were deployed from the nearby Russian base to take up position outside a Ukrainian border guard base.

Ludmila Marchenko, a retired teacher, simply burst into applause when asked about the masked soldiers with automatic rifles standing guard nearby.