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Updated: Sun, 02 Mar 2014 07:23:54 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Ukraine crisis: Russian military convoy en route to Crimea



Armed servicemen stand near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin secured his parliament's authority on Saturday to invade Ukraine after troops seized control of the Crimea peninsula and pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags above government buildings in two eastern cities. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (© UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY)

Armed servicemen stand near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin secured his parliament's authority on Saturday to invade Ukraine after troops seized control of the Crimea peninsula and pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags above government buildings in two eastern cities. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) - RTR3FVE7 Baz Ratner/Reuters

Ukraine's acting prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military Sunday in the conflict between the two countries, warning that "we are on the brink of disaster."

The comments from Arseniy Yatsenyuk came as a convoy of Russian troops rolled toward Simferopol, the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region, a day after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula without firing a shot.

"There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kyiv.

So far, the new government in Kiev has been powerless to do much to react to Russian military tactics.

"Ukraine is calling up all army reservists, getting this country combat ready," CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston said, reporting from Crimea.

Ormiston said there are reports the Ukrainian army is trying to protect its own caches of munitions.

Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. However, there has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea, where they make up about 60 per cent of the population, or elsewhere in Ukraine.

On the road from Sevastopol, the Crimean port where Russia has its key Black Sea naval base, to Simferopol, Associated Press journalists on Sunday saw 12 military trucks carrying troops, an armoured vehicle armed with a machine gun and also two ambulances.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes on Saturday and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said. Obama warned that Russia's "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."

U.S. pulling out of pre-G8 meetings

The U.S. also said it will suspend participation in "preparatory meetings" for the Group of Eight economic summit planned in June to be held at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, site of the just-concluded 2014 Winter Olympics.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius agreed, saying on French radio Europe that planning for the summit should be put on hold. France "condemns the Russian military escalation" in Ukraine, and Moscow must "realize that decisions have costs," he said Sunday.

But the U.S. and other Western governments have few options to counter Russia's military moves.

Canada will also boycott meetings leading up to the G8 summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Saturday. The G8 host changes every year, and 2014 is Russia's turn. The G8 host normally holds several planning meetings among finance ministers, foreign ministers and other top officials.

However, Canadian athletes will still compete in the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi, the Prime Minister's Office said late Saturday. The games are set for March 7 to March 16.

Harper said Canada supports the United Nations sending international monitors to Ukraine and is also involved in multilateral talks to put together a financial aid package for the beleaguered country.

NATO's North Atlantic Council, the alliance's political decision-making body, and the NATO-Ukraine Commission were to meet on Sunday. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allies will "coordinate closely" on the situation in Ukraine, which he termed "grave."

Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense. But Ukraine has taken part in some alliance military exercises and contributed troops to its response force.

Security increased at nuclear plants

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine's armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression." He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

On Crimea, however, Ukrainian troops have offered no resistance.

The new government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against the now-fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union.

Ukraine's population of 46 million is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU, while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea, a semi-autonomous region that Russia gave to Ukraine in the 1950s, is mainly Russian-speaking.

Political turmoil in Ukraine pushed Yanukovych from office after he rejected a partnership agreement with the European Union in favour of deepening his country's historical ties with Moscow.

Yanukovych held a news conference in southern Russia on Friday in which he said he was not asking Moscow for military assistance and called military action "unacceptable."

Yanukovych, who still considers himself Ukraine's president, also vowed to "keep fighting for the future of Ukraine" and blamed the U.S. and the West for encouraging the rebellion that forced him to flee last weekend.

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