cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Sat, 01 Mar 2014 14:34:19 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Ukraine crisis: Russia approves troops in region



A man in unmarked uniform looks from atop of a military vehicle while standing guard as troops taking control the the Coast Guard offices in Balaklava, outskirts of Sevastopol, Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014. An emblem on one of the vehicles and their number plates identify them as belonging to the Russian military. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of sending new troops into Crimea, a strategic Russia-speaking region that hosts a major Russian navy base. The Kremlin hasn't responded to the accusations, but Russian lawmakers urged Putin to act to protect Russians in Crimea. (© AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

A man in unmarked uniform looks from atop of a military vehicle while standing guard as troops taking control the the Coast Guard offices in Balaklava, outskirts of Sevastopol, Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014. An emblem on one of the vehicles and their number plates identify them as belonging to the Russian military. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of sending new troops into Crimea, a strategic Russia-speaking region that hosts a major Russian navy base. The Kremlin hasn't responded to the accusations, but Russian lawmakers urged Putin to act to protect Russians in Crimea. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov) The Associated Press

Russia executed a de facto military takeover of a strategic region in Ukraine as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests.

The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the swift takeover of Crimea by Russian troops already in Ukraine and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.

Putin's move follows President Barack Obama's warning Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, sharply raising the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future and evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship.

The explicit reference to the use of troops escalated days of conflict between the two countries, which started when Ukraine's pro-Russian president was pushed out by a protest movement of people who wanted closer ties to the European Union.

"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in his request sent to parliament.

Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and clashed with supporters of the new Ukrainian government.

Russia's upper house also recommended that Moscow recall its ambassador from Washington over Obama's comments.

Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a "military invasion and occupation" of the Crimea peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow "to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

Aurel Braun told CBC News on Sunday that the new government in Ukraine was doing well "in the face of Russian threats."  Braun is a visiting professor of strategic studies and conflict resolution from Harvard University and an expert on Eastern Europe.

"Mr. Putin spent $50 billion to by international goodwill," said Braun in reference to the recent Olympics. "[Now} Russia is disintegrating into an international bully."

UN meeting

The UN Security Council is holding an urgent meeting on the crisis in Ukraine on Saturday after Russia announced plans to send armed forces into the autonomous Crimea region of the former Soviet republic, council delegations said.

A diplomat from Luxembourg, president of the 15-nation council this month, said the meeting was to begin at 2:00 p.m. ET and was being convened at the request of Britain.

The council met on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine's Crimea region but took no formal action, as expected.

At Friday's session, Ukraine accused Russia of illegal military incursions onto Ukrainian territory, while U.S. and European delegations warned Moscow to withdraw any new military forces deployed in neighbouring Ukraine. Russia, however, said any military movements by Russian forces there were in compliance with its agreement with Kyiv on maintaining its naval base there.

Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and, therefore, able to block any actions proposed by its members.

Russian military in Ukraine

Unofficially, thousands of Russian troops and military vehicles have been taking up positions in Crimea in recent days.

Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications centre in Crimea on Friday.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.

Crimea's prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region will answer only to his orders.

Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh on Saturday told a cabinet meeting that 6,000 Russian troops have been sent to the peninsula, in violation of the law. He added Russia has about 80 military vehicles stationed in various areas of Crimea.

The apparent troop mobilization is the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russian influence.

CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston is in Sevastopol, on the southern edge of Crimea, not far from where Russia has operated a Black Sea naval base for decades.

"We're now seeing Russian troops in other parts of Crimea, armoured personnel carriers, as well as attack helicopters," Ormiston said.

She reported seeing a stationary convoy of 11 military transport vehicles, as well as five armoured vehicles blocking the access road to the Ukrainian coast guard base in Balaklava, a small coastal town near Sevastopol.

Ormiston said some of the military vehicles had Russian numbered plates, unlike the military trucks spotted Friday at Simferopol airport, which were unidentified.

Mood in Crimea becoming 'more hostile'

"The mood has also changed here. It's more hostile, more pro-Russian. We have been stopped several times and people are saying that Crimea is Russia and that, as one man puts it, Ukraine is "the bandit."

Pro-Russian demonstrations have broken out in major cities in eastern and southern Ukraine — in cities that included Kharkhiv, Donetsk and Odessa.

The Canadian government's Twitter page for international travel issued a new advisory on Saturday.

"If you are presently in Crimea, you should consider leaving while it is safe to do so," it said..

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he has been in contact with Russian Foreign Minister  Sergei Lavrov. On Saturday Hague called the military approval a "potentially grave threat" to Ukraine's sovereignty and independence and urged for a de-escalation of military movement in the Crimea.

more video