Russia's Parliament Prepared To Authorize Crimea Intervention
Ukraine's defense minister says that some 6,000 additional Russian troops have entered the Crimea in a move apparently aimed at ensuring Moscow's continued access to the strategic Black Sea peninsula. Meanwhile, the head of Russia's Duma says the body is ready to legitimize the intervention, set in motion by last week's ouster of Ukraine's Russian-leaning president.
The military moves, involving mysterious balaclava-clad soldiers, follow this week's installation in Crimea of Sergiy Aksyono, who is pro-Russian and formally asked Moscow for help in stabilizing the region. Kiev has deemed illegal Aksyono's election illegal.
NPR's Emily Harris reports from the Ukrainian capital that the new government there has accused Russia of breaking an agreement about stationing its troops in the Crimea, a southern peninsula in the former Soviet satellite that has long been considered strategically important to Russia as a base for its Black Sea fleet.
Russia's Interfax news agency quotes Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk as demanding that Russia "recall their forces, and return them to their stations."
"Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said in an apparent reference to pro-Russian partisans in eastern Ukraine.
"Ukraine's defense minister says Russia has increased military personnel in Crimea by 6,000 troops. His office put out a statement saying if 'radical elements' enter Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea, [Ukrainian] soldiers will respond."
"Meanwhile, Russia's foreign ministry posted a statement claiming that overnight Friday an unknown, armed group from Kiev clashed with a local militia holding the interior ministry building in Crimea. There is no independent confirmation of that claim."
The diplomatic shadow boxing is the latest in what many view as an outright Russian invasion of Crimea triggered by President Viktor Yanukovych last week. Yanukovych was forced out by a months-long protest calling on Ukraine to move away from Russia and align more closely with the West. Ukraine's interim government has promised fresh elections.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, says Russian military movements are within the purview of existing security arrangements between Kiev and Moscow.
"We have an agreement with Ukraine on the presence of the Russian Black Sea fleet with a base in Sevastopol, and we are acting within the framework of that agreement," he told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
He said Ukraine needs "to refrain from conducting a hasty presidential election. They need to stop trying to intimidate other regions and other political forces."
"Reports speak of a clash overnight in Crimea's capital and an attempt to seize a Ukrainian missile base."
"Ukraine's interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accused Russia of seeking to provoke an escalation."
"The U.S. has called for urgent mediation."
As we reported on Friday, President Obama says he's "deeply concerned" by reports coming from the region, urging Moscow not to intervene and warning of unspecified "costs" from the U.S. and the international community that would result from Russian intervention.
Germany, which depends heavily on Russia for its natural gas supply, also had cautionary words for Moscow. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday said the situation in Crimea "had become considerably more acute."
"Whoever pours more oil onto the flames now, with words or actions, is consciously aiming for further escalation of the situation," he said. "Everything Russia does in Crimea must be in keeping with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and treaties on Russia's Black Sea fleet."
"We are holding the Russian government to its public statements on this," Steinmeier said. "And this entails also that Russia provides without delay complete transparency over the movements of its troops in Crimea, as well as its goals and intentions behind these."
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague has also expressed concern to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Reuters reports.