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Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have held rival pro-unity and pro-Russian rallies, as Moscow continues to strengthen its grip on Crimea.
Pro-Russia supporters beat up their opponents in Sevastopol, Crimea.
In the eastern city of Luhansk, pro-Russian activists seized regional offices forcing the governor to resign.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK’s PM David Cameron telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to urge him to pull back from Crimea. The region is to vote to secede on March 16.
Addressing a huge crowd in Kiev to mark the 200th birth anniversary of national poet Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk pledged not to give a “single centimetre” of Ukrainian land to the Kremlin.
Ukraine’s defence minister has said Kiev has no plans to send the army to Crimea.
In the eastern city of Donetsk, pro-Russian protesters take down a Ukrainian flag near the regional government building, replacing it with a Russian flag.
Pro-Russian rally in Simferopol, Crimea
In Kharkiv, also in the east, some 10,000 people reportedly march to support Ukraine’s unity, chanting “No to war!” and “Ukraine, Kharkiv, Crimea!”.
Russia’s ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade behind bars, accuses Moscow of being complicit with Ukraine’s ousted government in using deadly violence against protesters
In Yevpatoriya, western Crimea, pro-Russian forces threaten to storm the command point of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile unit if the personnel there do not surrender their weapons.
In Sevastopol, the violence erupted when pro-Russian groups attacked dozens of people guarding a rally to commemorate Taras Shevchenko.
The crowd threw missiles at a car as the activists tried to flee the scene, smashing windows.
Some of the attackers were Russian Cossacks with whips.
The rally was attended by about 200 people.
A rival pro-Russian demonstration was also staged in the city – the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia that any moves to annex Crimea would close the door to diplomacy.
John Kerry told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Crimea is part of Ukraine and Moscow should avoid military escalation.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has been discussing the deepening crisis with world leaders.
It comes as warning shots were fired as a team of international observers was turned back from entering Crimea.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that no-one was hurt in the incident at Armyansk.
John Kerry told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Crimea is part of Ukraine and Moscow should avoid military escalation (photo Reuters)
It was the third time the OSCE has been prevented from entering Crimea, now in the control of pro-Russian forces.
Moscow has been tightening its military grip on the Crimean peninsula, and the pro-Russian authorities there have called a March 16 referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
The exchange between John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov came in a telephone conversation on Saturday, a US State Department official said.
“He [John Kerry] made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint,” the official said.
President Vladimir Putin has insisted he has the right to protect Russian interests and the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea.
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Ukraine crisis was “created artificially for purely geopolitical reasons”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
Sergei Lavrov confirmed Russia had contacts with Ukraine’s interim government but said Kiev was beholden to the radical right.
Russia, he said, was open to further dialogue with the West if it was “honest and partner-like”.
Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said he saw hopeful signs Russia might engage in talks.
Sergei Lavrov confirmed Russia had contacts with Ukraine’s interim government but said Kiev was beholden to the radical right
“We have not sat and talked with Russians but we managed to send our message through intermediaries,” he said in Kiev.
“Russia’s position is not categorical, they are accepting this proposal and are considering it, so, there is some hope.”
He said it was too early to give more details of the proposal.
Ukraine’s Crimea region remains tense ahead of a self-declared referendum to be held on March 16 on whether to join the Russian Federation.
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Russia has warned the US not to take “hasty and reckless steps” in response to the crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
In a phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Moscow would harm the US.
Pro-Russian troops have been in control of Crimea for the last week.
Earlier, a stand-off involving pro-Russian soldiers at a Ukrainian military base outside Sevastopol reportedly ended without incident.
Crimea’s parliament announced on Thursday it would hold a referendum on March 16 on whether to join Russia or remain part of Ukraine.
In a phone call with John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Moscow would harm the US (photo Reuters)
Russia’s parliament has promised to support Crimea if it chooses to become part of Russia.
The vote has been denounced as “illegitimate” by the interim government in Kiev, which took power after President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month in the wake of mass protests against his government and deadly clashes with security forces.
In their telephone conversation on Friday, Sergei Lavrov warned John Kerry against taking “hasty and unthought-through steps capable of causing harm to Russian-US relations”, Russia’s foreign ministry reports.
Sergei Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Russia in response to its involvement in Ukraine “will inevitably have a boomerang effect against the US itself”.
The US State Department said John Kerry had “underscored the importance of finding a constructive way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which would address the interests of the people of Ukraine, Russia and the international community”.
“Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed to continue to consult in the days ahead on the way forward,” said the US statement.
The Pentagon estimates that 20,000 Russian troops may now be in Crimea, while the Ukrainian border guards’ commander puts the figure at 30,000.
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According to new reports, pro-Russian soldiers have stormed a Ukrainian military base outside the Crimean city of Sevastopol, before withdrawing soon afterwards.
Two trucks from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet outside the gates, surrounded by armed men.
No shots are believed to have been fired, and the assailants and trucks reportedly left after “negotiations”.
Troops wearing Russian uniform without insignia have blockaded bases since taking control of Crimea last week.
Some military installations and other buildings in the peninsula have been taken over, but both sides have so far held their fire.
On Friday evening, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported that about 100 Ukrainian personnel were stationed at missile defense base A2355.
Troops wearing Russian uniform without insignia have blockaded military bases since taking control of Crimea last week
Citing a duty officer and Ukraine’s defense ministry, the agency said a truck had rammed open the gates of the facility and about 20 “attackers” had entered, throwing stun grenades.
The Ukrainian troops immediately barricaded themselves inside a building and their commander began negotiations before any shots were fired, it added.
There were two military trucks with Russian number plates outside the gates, surrounded by irregular soldiers and a very hostile crowd of pro-Russian demonstrators.
Two journalists who attempted to take photographs were beaten badly.
Later, a Ukrainian officer told a Daily Telegraph journalist that the stand-off had ended after the “talks”, and that the Russian trucks and about 30 to 60 Russians troops had withdrawn.
The incident comes hours after Russian parliamentarians gave a standing ovation to a delegation of pro-Moscow politicians from Crimea, promising support if they wanted to become part of Russia.
The region is due to hold a referendum on March 16, on whether to join Russia or remain part of Ukraine. The vote has been denounced by the interim government in Kiev as illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Russia’s state-owned energy company, Gazprom, warned Ukraine that its gas supply might be cut off unless its $1.89 billion of debts were cleared.
Gazprom halted supplies to Ukraine for almost two weeks in 2009, a move that caused shortages in Europe.
Ukrainian officials have said the state has come close to bankruptcy since protesters ousted President Viktor Yanukovych at the end of February.
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The US and EU have joined Ukraine’s new government in condemning as “illegal” the Crimean referendum to endorse joining Russia.
The EU, meeting in Brussels, threatened “serious consequences” if Russia did not act to de-escalate the crisis.
Crimea’s parliament earlier set a date of March 16 for a vote on the referendum.
Russian troops took de facto control of Crimea, whose population is mostly ethnic Russian, in the wake of the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.
The Crimean parliament on Thursday said it had decided “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.
It said it had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin “to start the procedure”.
The US and EU have joined Ukraine’s new government in condemning as “illegal” the Crimean referendum to endorse joining Russia
Before the Brussels summit, some EU members – led by Germany – had indicated they preferred mediation with Russia to try to solve the crisis, rather than any stronger measures.
But correspondents say the Crimean parliament move has clearly toughened the line taken by the EU.
In press conferences after the talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy both said the Crimean referendum was contrary to the Ukrainian constitution and therefore illegal.
The EU said it was suspending talks with Moscow on easing travel restrictions on Russians entering the EU.
It said that if Russia did not move to de-escalate the situation quickly, it would “decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit”.
The EU statement said that “any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilize the situation in Ukraine would lead to severe and far-reaching consequences… which will include a broad range of economic areas”.
President Barack Obama said the Crimea referendum would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law”.
The US president said there was a way to resolve the crisis with Russia through diplomacy but that “if the violation continues, the resolve of the US and its allies will remain firm”.
Barack Obama praised the “international unity on display at this moment”.
The US had earlier issued visa restrictions on a number of unnamed Ukrainian and Russian officials and individuals “to deny visas to those responsible for, or complicit in, threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
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Crimea’s parliament has voted to become part of the Russian Federation.
The southern Ukrainian region’s parliament said the decision would be put to the Crimean people for their verdict in a referendum on March 16.
A government minister in Kiev said they believe it would be unconstitutional for Crimea to join Russia.
Crimea, a region whose population is mostly ethnic Russian (58.5%), has been at the centre of tensions following the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.
Pro-Russian and Russian forces have been in de facto control of the peninsula, which already enjoys a degree of autonomy from Kiev, for several days.
The announcement from Crimea’s parliament comes as EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss how to respond to Russia’s troop deployment on Ukrainian soil.
The Crimean parliament resolved “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.
Crimea’s parliament has voted to become part of the Russian Federation (photo Reuters)
In a statement on its website, parliament said it has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin “to start the procedure” of formally allowing Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was aware of developments in the Crimean parliament, but no response has yet been made public.
If Russia agrees to Crimea’s request, the Crimean people will be asked two questions in the March 16 referendum, the statement says.
1. Are you in favor of reuniting Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?
2. Are you in favor of retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?
Ukraine’s interim Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta, speaking in Kiev soon after the announcement was made, said: “We’re not working out what to do if Crimea joins the Russian Federation because we believe it’s unconstitutional.”
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The foreign ministers from Russia, the US and key EU states are holding talks in Paris to try to resolve Ukraine crisis.
The US wants independent observers in the flashpoint region of Crimea and direct talks between Kiev and Moscow.
Russia was expected to call for greater representation for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking areas in the Kiev government.
The EU earlier offered 11 billionn euros ($15 billion) of aid to Ukraine and froze the assets of 18 Ukrainians.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the package of loans and grants over the next couple of years was “designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms-oriented government” in Kiev.
Russian soldiers at Sevastopol naval base in Ukraine (photo Itar-Tass)
Ukraine’s finance ministry has predicted it needs $35 billion to rescue the economy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met US Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from France, Germany and the UK on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon in Paris.
NATO and Russia have been holding parallel talks in Brussels.
The Paris gathering is being seen above all as a chance to test the waters for a dialogue about Ukraine.
In the US, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel announced plans to expand US military co-operation with Poland and Baltic states.
Chuck Hagel said the US would step up joint aviation training with Poland, and increase its participation in NATO’s mission to police the air space of Baltic countries.
The announcement was a direct response to concerns raised last week by Poland, he said.
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According to new reports, Russian volunteers are being recruited via social media to cross the border into Ukraine to offer “moral support”.
“We need men aged 18-45 who are already in Ukraine, or are ready to go,” says the “Civil Defense of Ukraine” page on VKontakte, the main Russian-language social network.
The page was set up just over a week ago and has more than 7,000 followers. It includes an online form calling for recruits and is asking male volunteers to cross the border, to offer what it calls “moral support” to people they believe have been put at risk by the recent “coup”.
Vladimir Prokopenko, whose name is at the top of a list of members on the site, has been widely quoted in the Russian press as saying he wants Russians to travel to Ukraine to engage in peaceful protest rallies.
“If the situation becomes violent, then we will not send anyone,” Vladimir Prokopenko told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
“We send people to Donetsk and Kharkiv,” the VKontakte page says – both cities in eastern Ukraine.
Russian volunteers are being recruited via social media to cross the border into Ukraine to offer moral support
The page also mentions Odessa, in south-west Ukraine, as an important destination. Offering advice to Russians attempting to cross the border, the site encourages people to avoid attracting attention.
“Remember, you’re just a tourist,” it says.
Separate and unconfirmed reports claim some Russian citizens have been paid to travel to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where they have been involved in violent clashes.
VKontakte is a widely used social network in Russia, which reportedly has 100 million active users.
The campaign echoes the sentiment behind a hashtag which has trended on Twitter in recent days. #РоссияСвоихНеБросает, which translates roughly as “Russia doesn’t leave its own behind” and has been used almost 85,000 times, appears to express a common bond felt by Russians towards Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.
Newly created Twitter accounts have apparently been used to tweet the hashtag repeatedly, in order to make it trend.
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Russia and the US are due to hold crucial talks to try to ease tensions over the Ukraine crisis.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to meet on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon in Paris.
The US accuses Moscow of deploying troops in Ukraine’s Crimea region, describing it as an “act of aggression” – a claim denied by the Kremlin.
Despite the sharp differences, both sides have hinted they would prefer to start a dialogue.
Moscow remains in de facto control of Ukraine’s southern autonomous region.
The tense stand-off continued overnight in Crimea, with reports that Russian forces have seized part of a Ukrainian missile defense unit.
In Donetsk, east of Ukraine, the regional government building has been evacuated and the area cordoned off amid unconfirmed reports of a bomb scare.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to meet on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon in Paris
Earlier this week tensions escalated over Russia’s warnings that it could move beyond Crimea into eastern Ukraine to protect Russians and Russian-speakers there.
The move has triggered wide condemnation across the globe.
Meanwhile, NATO and Russia will hold talks in Brussels.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen earlier said Russia continued to “violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama held a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss his plan to de-escalate the crisis, White House officials said.
They said Barack Obama’s offer to Moscow envisaged the return of the Russian troops in Crimea back to the bases of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the peninsula.
The plan – which Barack Obama discussed with President Vladimir Putin on Saturday – also calls for sending a group of international monitors to Ukraine to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians are protected.
And it encourages a direct dialogue between the government in Kiev and Moscow.
The Kremlin has so far not publicly commented on the offer.
Both President Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov have said they want to see a government of national unity in Ukraine, with more representation for the Russian-speaking population in the east of the country.
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Russia says it has test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, as tension continues over Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan, it said.
It comes after the US accused Russia of an “act of aggression” in Crimea.
The US said it was given advance notice of the missile launch, as required by bilateral arms treaties.
The Topol was fired at 22:10 local time, the defense ministry in Moscow said, adding: “The aim of the launch was to test a promising intercontinental ballistic missile payload.”
A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan
The nuclear-capable missile reached its target successfully, it said.
Tests of the missile, one of Russia’s newest, are not unusual but the timing of the launch if confirmed, is likely to alarm observers of the crisis with Ukraine.
Moscow is in de facto control of the Crimean peninsula after troops thought to be Russian or pro-Russian took control of strategic points in recent days.
Troops are surrounding Ukrainian military bases and other installations, while two Ukrainian warships are reported to be blocked by a Russian ship in the port of Sevastopol.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the troops are Russian, saying they are “local self-defense forces” loyal to Moscow, protecting the bases from “nationalists” and “anti-Semites”.
Vladimir Putin said Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as Ukraine’s president in late February after months of protest, remained the legitimate leader, though he admitted that he had “no political future”.
Kiev and the West have accused Russia of mounting an invasion of Crimea, which has a majority Russian-speaking population.
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President Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, but he has not ruled out doing so.
Russia reserves the right to use “all means” to protect citizens in Ukraine, he told a news conference.
Russian and Ukrainian troops in Crimea are involved in a tense stand-off.
Vladimir Putin called the toppling of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power”.
The Russian president said “militants” had plunged the country into “chaos”. He also said Ukrainian “nationalists” and “anti-Semites” were roaming the streets of Kiev and other cities.
Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, but he has not ruled out doing so
If Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine asked for Russia’s help then Moscow would respond, he said.
In Crimea pro-Russian armed men and civilians are surrounding Ukrainian military bases – not Russian soldiers, he said.
Viktor Yanukovych had agreed to all that the opposition wanted, Vladimir Putin said.
Vladimir Putin insisted that Viktor Yanukovych was still the legitimate president.
There were only three legal means to remove a president, he said: death, personal resignation or impeachment.
Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, and Vladimir Putin told the news conference: “I don’t think he has a political future.”
Russia had helped Viktor Yanukovych for “humanitarian” reasons, Vladimir Putin said, “otherwise he’d just have been killed”.
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Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin has claimed that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asked Moscow to send troops across the border to protect civilians.
Vitaly Churkin told a Security Council meeting that Viktor Yanukovych wrote President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.
Thousands of Russian troops have been deployed to Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Russian troops have also been holding military exercises near Ukraine’s borders, but now Vladimir Putin has ordered them back to base, the Kremlin says.
Ukraine said Russia had set a deadline for its forces in Crimea to surrender by 03:00 GMT. So far there have been no reports of any incidents.
Russia has denied issuing any ultimatum.
The Kremlin has argued in favor of the intervention, which has sparked outrage and threats of economic sanctions from the US and EU.
Western ambassadors dismissed Russia’s arguments as groundless.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is on his way to Kiev to meet Ukraine’s new leaders and show support for the country’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s UN envoy Yuriy Sergeyev says Russia has deployed about 16,000 troops to the peninsula.
Vitaly Churkin told a Security Council meeting that Viktor Yanukovych wrote Vladimir Putin asking for troops in Crimea
Ukrainian defence sources accused Russia’s Black Sea Fleet chief Aleksander Vitko of threatening a full-scale assault if they did not surrender by dawn on Tuesday.
A Russian spokesman later denied that any ultimatum had been issued.
Ukrainian military personnel besieged in their bases waited nervously for the deadline to pass, many of them preparing for an attack by Russian troops and pro-Moscow militias.
However, a deputy commander at one of Ukraine’s units, named only as Major Lisovoy, told local ATR TV that there were no attempts to storm the base.
“We’re all in high spirits, ready to defend our base. There was no official ultimatum, it was done indirectly via mobile phones. I want peace and stability, and for Ukraine to be a united country.”
The Kremlin has established de facto military control in Crimea. There are growing fears that it might try to seize more land in eastern Ukraine, where a number of people support closer ties with Moscow.
Ukrainian officials say reports suggest there is also a Russian military build-up near Ukraine’s eastern border.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said it was putting on hold all military-to-military engagements between the US and Russia. These include exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences.
At the UN in New York, Vitaly Churkin offered the Security Council a copy of the letter Viktor Yanukovych had sent.
Vitaly Churkin said Viktor Yanukovych had described Ukraine as on the brink of civil war, with civilians being persecuted simply for speaking Russian.
Ukraine’s officials deny this, pointing out that an overwhelming majority of people in Crimea and well as in a number south-eastern cities in Ukraine’s mainland speak Russian in their day-to-day lives.
Vitaly Churkin quoted from the letter: “I would call on the president of Russia, Mr Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.”
He reiterated Moscow’s view that Viktor Yanukovych is Ukraine’s legitimate leader, not interim President Oleksandr Turchynov.
Western ambassadors refused to accept Russia’s justification, continuing to accuse Moscow of violating international law.
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Russia’s military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea an ultimatum until dawn on Tuesday to surrender or face an assault.
The head of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Aleksander Vitko set the deadline and also threatened two warships, Ukrainian officials said.
However, Interfax news agency later quoted a fleet spokesman who denied that any ultimatum had been issued.
Moscow has said its troops are needed in Crimea to protect civilians.
Russia’s military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea an ultimatum until dawn on Tuesday to surrender or face an assault (photo Reuters)
The Kremlin says people in Crimea have come under threat from “ultra-nationalists” since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month.
Russia is now said to be in de facto control of the Crimea region.
Ukraine has ordered full mobilization to counter the intervention.
No shots have yet been fired in the region, which has a majority of Russian speakers and a largely pro-Russian local government.
But the captain of one of the threatened warships told Ukrainian TV his men were prepared to fight and would not surrender.
The trouble began last month when pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following months of street protests.
Russia claims its military is protecting human rights in Crimea, but Kiev, the US and Western Europe have condemned the actions.
Ukraine’s PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said earlier that any attempt to seize Crimea would fail, urging allies to give economic and political support to his government.
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Russia has taken de facto armed control in Ukraine’s Crimea region, despite Western demands that it withdraw.
Thousands of Russian troops are securing the region and further armor and ship movements have been reported.
Ukraine has ordered full mobilization, issuing call-up papers and asking for more international support.
Russia says it is protecting its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine following the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last month.
The crisis hit Russian stock markets on Monday, with Moscow’s main MICEX index dropping 9% in early trading. The rouble fell to a fresh all-time low against the US dollar and Russia’s central bank raised its key lending rate to 7% from 5.5%.
Russia has taken de facto armed control in Ukraine’s Crimea region
Thousands of newly arrived Russian elite troops far outnumber Ukraine’s military presence with roadblocks cutting off Crimea.
Ukrainian border guards have reported a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of the sea channel dividing Russia and Crimea.
Pro-Russian troops have taken over the ferry terminal in far-eastern Crimea that operates services to Russia.
There have also been further movements of Russian ships in the Black Sea – Sevastopol is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Some mobile phone services are reported to be blocked.
Ukrainian navy commanders on Monday confirmed their loyalty to Ukraine, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported, despite an attempt by pro-Russian personnel to enter the navy HQ in Simferopol and force them to switch allegiance.
Ukraine’s interim government has called for more international support to force Russian troops to leave.
While Kiev hopes to resolve this crisis through dialogue, it is now mobilizing its military forces.
Men across Ukraine have been receiving call-up papers and will start reporting for 10 days training from Monday.
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Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine has been condemned by its G8 partners amid fresh diplomatic efforts to avert a dangerous escalation of the crisis.
The world’s seven major industrialized powers also suspended preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi in June.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign ministers are due to meet in emergency session in Brussels.
The moves come as Russian military forces continue to strengthen their grip on the Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine’s interim government has accused Russia of having declared war, and has ordered the mobilization of its armed forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far defied calls from the West to pull back his troops.
He insists Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.
The UN said on Sunday that Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson was travelling to Ukraine to be “personally apprised of the facts on the ground”.
Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine has been condemned by its G8 partners
A statement said he would brief UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “on the next steps the United Nations could take to support the de-escalation of the situation”.
On Monday morning, the MICEX index of stocks in Moscow suffered an initial fall of about 5% and the rouble fell 2.5% to an all-time low against the US dollar.
Russia’s central bank also raised its main interest rate to 7% from 5.5%.
The G7 of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US urged Russia to hold talks with Ukraine to address any human rights or security concerns it had.
In a statement released from the White House, the grouping said it condemned “the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
It added: “We have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June.”
G7 finance ministers said they were ready “to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine”.
“The International Monetary Fund [IMF] remains the institution best prepared to help Ukraine address its immediate economic challenges through policy advice and financing,” a statement said.
Ukraine needs $35 billion over the next two years, according to the finance ministry.
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Ukraine is calling up military reservists following Russia’s decision to deploy troops in Crimea.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had already ordered increased security at key sites, including nuclear plants.
Meanwhile President Barack Obama has called the Russian decision a “violation of Ukrainian sovereignty”.
Heavily armed groups continue to occupy key sites in Crimea, including airports and communications hubs
Ukraine has said it will seek the help of US and UK leaders in guaranteeing its security. NATO has called emergency talks to be held on Sunday at 12:00 GMT.
The new Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has warned that military action by Moscow would be “the beginning of war and the end of relations”.
Heavily armed groups continue to occupy key sites in Crimea, including airports and communications hubs, although there has been no actual violence.
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President Barack Obama has urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to pull his troops back from Ukraine.
In a 90-minute phone conversation, Barack Obama urged Vladimir Putin to pull forces back to bases in Crimea.
Vladimir Putin responded by saying that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.
Meanwhile, Canada has recalled its ambassador to Moscow for consultations.
Canadian PM Stephen Harper said he was also suspending Canada’s preparations for a G8 summit in the Russian resort of Sochi in June.
Ukraine says it has put its army on full combat alert after Russia’s parliament approved the deployment of Russian troops.
In a 90-minute phone conversation, Barack Obama urged Vladimir Putin to pull forces back to bases in Crimea
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said he had also stepped up security at key sites, including nuclear plants.
According to the White House, Barack Obama told Vladimir Putin that the appropriate way to address any concerns “is peacefully through direct engagement” with the Ukrainian government and international mediating bodies.
“President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said.
Barack Obama told Vladimir Putin his actions were a “breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine”, a statement added.
The Kremlin said that in his phone call with Barack Obama, President Vladimir Putin “underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory”.
As diplomatic efforts increased, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken with foreign ministers from Europe and Canada as well as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the Japanese envoy to the US “to co-ordinate on next steps”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for “an immediate restoration of calm and direct dialogue”, whilst NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted: “Urgent need for de-escalation in Crimea.”
The UN Security Council held an emergency session on the crisis on Saturday, and NATO has called emergency talks to be held on Sunday at 1200 GMT.
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President Vladimir Putin’s request for Russian forces to be used in Ukraine has been approved by the upper house of parliament.
Vladimir Putin had asked that Russian forces be used “until the normalization of the political situation in the country”.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where many ethnic Russians live.
Kiev has reacted angrily to days of military movements in Crimea, accusing Moscow of trying to provoke the new government into an armed conflict.
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has called an emergency session of his security chiefs.
Vladimir Putin submitted the request for troops “in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens”, the Kremlin said.
The upper house went into a special session almost immediately after Vladimir Putin made the request, in what seems to have been a carefully co-ordinated series of events during the day
Earlier, the lower house of parliament had urged the president to take whatever measures were necessary to “stabilize” the situation in Crimea.
Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved Vladimir Putin’s request for Russian troops deployment in Ukraine
During the upper house debate, one legislator accused President Barack Obama of crossing “a red line” with his comments that there would be costs if Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine.
The upper house has recommended that the Russian ambassador the US should be recalled, although the decision lies with Vladimir Putin.
The request follow days of military activity in Crimea during which unidentified armed men moved in to take over the regional parliament, state television and telecommunications hubs.
Soldiers from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea, are reported to be guarding some administrative buildings and military bases.
Amid the closure of airspace over Crimea’s regional capital Simferopol on Friday evening, there were unconfirmed reports that Russian planes were flying in thousands of troops.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said on Saturday there are now an extra 6,000 Russian troops in Crimea, alongside an additional 30 armored vehicles.
Under the agreement governing the presence of the fleet in Crimea, the Russians must co-ordinate all troop movements outside the fleet’s base with the Ukrainian authorities beforehand.
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President Barack Obama has warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.
The US president said he was deeply concerned by reports of Russian military movements inside Ukraine.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandry Turchynov has accused Russia of deploying troops to the Ukrainian region of Crimea and trying to provoke Kiev into “armed conflict”.
Crimea’s pro-Moscow PM Sergey Aksyonov has asked Russian authorities for help in maintaining peace in the region.
“I appeal to the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to provide assistance in ensuring peace and tranquility on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” Sergey Aksyonov said in a statement.
Sergey Aksyonov, who was appointed by the Crimean parliament on Thursday, also said he was taking control of Crimea’s interior ministry, armed forces, fleet and border guards “on a temporary basis”.
The new cabinet in Ukraine is due to meet for the first time on Saturday to discuss the deepening crisis over Russia’s reported military deployments.
Russia’s UN ambassador earlier insisted any troop movements in Crimea were within an existing arrangement with Ukraine.
Barack Obama has warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine
Overnight reports said armed men in unidentified military uniforms had seized another airfield.
On Friday they took over airports in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, and Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based.
Ukrainian media citing local officials said 13 Russian aircraft carrying nearly 2,000 suspected troops had landed at a military air base near Simferopol. The report remains unconfirmed.
Russian armored vehicles and helicopters were also seen in and around Simferopol and Sevastopol.
Flights from and to Simferopol were cancelled with airlines saying airspace over the peninsula had been closed.
The armed men also moved in on Crimea’s parliament, state television building and telecommunication centers.
Speaking from the White House, Barack Obama commended Ukraine’s interim government for its “restraint”.
“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe,” he said.
“It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine – and of international laws.”
Barack Obama added: “Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And, indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
The president did not spell out what any US response might be.
In a TV address on Friday, Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said Moscow wanted the new government to react to provocations so it could annex Crimea.
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Pro-Moscow leader of Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region Sergey Aksyonov has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help to ensure peace.
A Kremlin source said it would “not leave unnoticed” the request from Sergiy Aksyonov.
Meanwhile President Barack Obama warned Moscow against intervention after mysterious troop movements.
Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of seeking to provoke an escalation.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk was speaking at the first meeting of his cabinet, installed after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. The new Defense Minister, Ihor Tenyukh, accused Russia of “recently” deploying 6,000 extra soldiers to Ukraine.
Unidentified soldiers are guarding key buildings in Crimea
Sergey Aksyonov, 41,who leads the main pro-Russian party in Crimea, was elected prime minister of Crimea by the region’s parliament this week in an emergency session, replacing Anatoliy Mohylyov.
In the same vote, the parliament called a referendum on the status of Crimea, a region dominated by ethnic Russians.
The Crimean prime minister has brought forward the vote to March 30, from May 25 – the date of Ukraine’s early presidential election.
Sergey Aksyonov’s election was not approved by the new authorities in Kiev, who traditionally appoint the prime minister of Crimea, in consultation with the regional parliament. He also refused to recognize Ukraine’s new government.
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Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being removed from office last week.
Viktor Yanukovych said at a news conference in Russia he would fight for his country.
He said he was “not overthrown”, but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life.
Those who drove him from power were “young neo-fascist thugs”, he said.
Viktor Yanukovych said current tensions in Crimea were “understandable” but stated his desire for Ukraine to remain united.
The focus of unrest in Ukraine has shifted to the Russian-majority Crimea region since Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by Western-leaning opponents last Saturday.
It followed a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters who had taken over central Kiev since Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal in favor of one with Russia last November.
Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being removed from office at a news conference in Russia
On Friday, Ukraine accused Russia of carrying out an “armed invasion” in Crimea by sending naval forces to occupy Sevastopol airport. Moscow has denied the claims.
“I intend to continue to struggle for the future of Ukraine, against terror and fear,” Viktor Yanukovych told the news conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
“I can’t find words to characterize this new authority. These are people who advocate violence – the Ukrainian parliament is illegitimate.
“What’s going on now is lawlessness, lack of authority, and terror. Decisions in parliament were taken under duress.”
He apologized to the Ukrainian people for not having “enough strength to keep stability” and for allowing “lawlessness in this country”.
Viktor Yanukovych insisted he did not “flee anywhere”, explaining that his car was shot at as he left Kiev for the north-east city of Kharkiv and he was forced to move around Ukraine amid fears for the safety of himself and his family.
He said he arrived in Russia “thanks to a patriotically minded young officer” and was given refuge in Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, by an old friend.
Speaking in Russian, Viktor Yanukovych said he would return to Ukraine “as soon as there are guarantees for my security and that of my family”.
Viktor Yanukovych ruled out taking part in elections planned for May 25, describing them as “illegal”.
He made clear his view that the only way out of the crisis is to implement an EU-backed compromise agreement he signed with opposition leaders last week before he was deposed.
Viktor Yanukovych said the current turmoil in Crimea was “an absolutely natural reaction to the bandit coup that occurred in Kiev” and added that he was surprised by the restraint shown by Russian President Vladimir Putin so far.
He also stressed that “military action in this situation is unacceptable” and said he wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukraine’s general prosecutor said he would ask Russia to extradite Viktor Yanukovych on suspicion of mass murder following the deaths of more than 80 people in last week’s violent clashes between protesters and the police.
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According to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Russian military forces are blockading Sevastopol airport in the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
Arsen Avakov called their presence an “armed invasion”.
Armed men also took over the other main Crimean airport, Simferopol, on Friday morning.
Relations between Russia and the Ukraine have been strained since the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanokovych, who is now in Russia.
These tensions have been particularly evident in Crimea, Ukraine’s only Russian-majority region.
On Thursday, pro-Russian armed men stormed the Simferopol parliament, ousted the existing cabinet and appointed a new prime minister.
Meanwhile, in a further challenge to Kiev, Viktor Yanukovich is preparing to give a press conference on Friday, after resurfacing in Russia on Thursday, asserting that he is still Ukraine’s lawful president.
Armed men took over Simferopol airport in Crimea on Friday morning
Armed men, said by Arsen Avakov to be Russian soldiers, arrived in the Sevastopol military airport near Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Base on Friday morning.
The men were patrolling outside, backed up by armored vehicles, but Ukrainian military and border guards remained inside, Arsen Avakov said.
“I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms,” Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page.
Armed men also arrived at Simferopol airport overnight, some carrying Russian flags.
A man called Vladimir told Reuters he was a volunteer helping the group there, though he said he did not know where they came from.
“I’m with the People’s Militia of Crimea. We’re simple people, volunteers,” he said.
“We’re here at the airport to maintain order. We’ll meet the planes with a nice smile – the airport is working as normal.”
On Thursday, a separate group of unidentified armed men entered Crimea’s parliament building by force, and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof.
The Crimean parliament later announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the region’s autonomy on May 25.
Recent developments in the Crimea region – which traditionally leans towards Moscow – heightened tensions with Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to monitor its borders on Thursday.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, last night urged his government to maintain relations with Kiev and even join Western efforts to bail out its troubled economy – but he is also rewarding the rebellious Crimean government with humanitarian aid from Russia.
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Two Ukraine’s government buildings have been seized by armed men in Simferopol, the capital of the Russian-majority region of Crimea.
The Russian flag had been raised over both the parliament and the regional government buildings in Simferopol.
On Wednesday pro-Russian separatists and supporters of Ukraine’s new leaders confronted each other in the city.
Ukrainian interim President Oleksandr Turchynov warned Russia against any “military aggression” in Crimea.
Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia’s troops from Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base in the Crimea.
“I would like to call on the leadership of the Russian Federation to respect the basic agreements on the Russian military presence in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” he said.
Meanwhile Russia is performing a second day of military exercises, saying it fighter jets were on “combat alert”.
“Constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions,” Russia’s defense ministry told Interfax.
Two Ukraine’s government buildings have been seized by armed men in Simferopol
On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap drill to test the combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia, near the border with Ukraine. Thursday’s exercises appear to be part of that drill, analysts say.
Also on Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry expressed concern over what it termed “massive violations of human rights in Ukraine”.
Amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West, NATO has issued a statement saying it would continue to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The US has warned against any military intervention by Russia.
On Wednesday Simferopol saw clashes erupt between Ukrainians who support the change of government and pro-Russians.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the area near the government buildings has been cordoned off to prevent “bloodshed”. He added that the seizure of the buildings was the work of “provocateurs”.
“Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the centre of the city,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page.
Regional Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohylyov told a local TV station said he would take part in talks with the gunmen and told government employees who normally work there not to come in.
The men have not yet made any demands or issued any statements but did put up a sign reading: “Crimea is Russia”.
They threw a flash grenade in response to questions from a journalist, AP news agency reported.
Tensions have been rising in Crimea since President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last week.
Crimea – where ethnic Russians are in a majority – was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars – whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin’s deportations during World War II – have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.
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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine’s interim authorities had conducted an “armed mutiny”.
And the Russian foreign ministry said dissenters in mainly Russian-speaking regions faced suppression.
Earlier, Ukraine’s interim interior minister said an arrest warrant had been issued for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday. His whereabouts are unknown but he was reported to have been in the Crimean peninsula on Sunday.
Russia has already recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultation.
Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine’s interim authorities had conducted an armed mutiny
Unrest in Ukraine began in November when Viktor Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, quoted by Russian news agencies, suggested that Western countries that accepted Ukraine’s new authorities were mistaken.
“The legitimacy of a whole number of organs of power that function there raises great doubts,” he said.
“Some of our foreign, Western partners think otherwise. This is some kind of aberration of perception when people call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny.”
He added: “We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry quickly responded to Dmitry Medvedev’s comments on Russian citizens in Ukraine, saying his concerns were “unfounded”.
However, Russia’s foreign ministry also issued a strongly worded statement saying a “forced change of power” was taking place in Ukraine and accused interim leaders of passing new laws “aimed at infringing the humanitarian rights of Russians and other ethnic minorities”.
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