Russia said unidentified gunmen sent by Kiev had attempted
overnight to seize the Crimea region's Interior Ministry offices and
that people had been wounded in the attack. It accused Kiev of a
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk urged Moscow to cease what
it called provocative actions, echoing a warning by U.S. President
Barack Obama who said any military intervention following the
overthrow of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich would have
costs for Moscow.
Armed men wearing combat uniform with no identification markings
control two airports in Crimea, which hosts Russia's Black Sea
Fleet, and have taken over the regional parliament in what Kiev
described as an occupation by Moscow's forces.
"It is unacceptable when armored Russian military vehicles are out
in the centre of Ukrainian towns," Yatseniuk said at the start of a
government meeting in Kiev.
"We do not give in to provocative actions, we do not use force and
we demand that Russia stop its provocative actions and return the
troops to base."
Russia says any movements by its military in Crimea are in line with
agreements with Ukraine in the lease of the naval base in the port
city of Sevastopol and accused Kiev of trying to destabilize the
Black Sea peninsula.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Kiev-backed gunmen had attempted to
take over the offices of the Crimean Interior Ministry. It said
people had been wounded but gave no details. There was no
confirmation of such an action from other sources.
"With decisive actions by self-defense groups, the attempt to seize
the interior ministry building was averted. This confirms the desire
of prominent political circles in Kiev to destabilize the
peninsula," it said in a statement.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, said on Friday
that Russia was following a scenario like the one before it went to
war with fellow former Soviet republic Georgia in 2008 over two
breakaway regions. The regions are now fully beyond the control of
Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh told Saturday's government meeting
that Russia had "recently" brought 6,000 additional personnel into
Ukraine and that the Ukrainian military were on high alert in the
Several military transport planes and about 10 military helicopters
had entered Ukrainian airspace on Friday without permission, he
The crisis, which began after Yanukovich triggered protests by
spurning a political and trade deal with the European Union, is
stoking tensions in a geopolitical battle between East and West that
has echoes of the Cold War.
"We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken
by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine," Obama told reporters
"The United States will stand with the international community in
affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in
Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity
would be "deeply destabilizing," he said.
Obama and European leaders would consider skipping a G8 summit this
summer in the Russian city of Sochi if Moscow intervened militarily,
a senior U.S. official said.
The G8 includes the world's seven leading industrial nations and
Russia. Putin considers hosting such events as a way to show how far
Russia has come since the Soviet Union's demise in 1991.
Washington's relations with Moscow are already cool because of
differences over the conflict in Syria, Putin's record on human
rights and Russia's decision to harbor former U.S. spy agency
contractor Edward Snowden.
[to top of second column]
The removal of Yanukovich from power has been accepted across
Ukraine, even - grudgingly - in the eastern, mainly Russian-speaking
regions that were his powerbase. But the new Ukrainian leader,
Turchinov, faces a challenge in Crimea, the only region in the
country that has an ethnic Russian majority.
Crimea was a Russian territory in the communist Soviet Union before
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted it to Soviet Ukraine in 1954.
Some ethnic Russians want Russia to reclaim it now.
In a sign of defiance, Sergei Aksyonov, the pro-Russia prime
minister of Crimea, has put himself in charge of all military
forces, police and other security services in the region.
He has appealed to Putin for "assistance in guaranteeing peace and
calm" there and Interfax news agency quoted a Kremlin source as
saying the appeal would be considered by Moscow.
Gunmen took over the regional parliament in Crimea on Thursday, and
have controlled the main international airport in Simferopol, the
main regional centre, and a military airfield near Sevastopol since
A representative of Acting President Turchinov said 13 Russian
aircraft had landed with 150 personnel on each plane.
A local television station reported that another military aerodrome
had been taken over by armed men overnight, but the report was not
Phone lines have been severed in some areas and witnesses say they
have seen armored personnel carriers on the move.
There has been no bloodshed and no military clashes since
Yanukovich's flight from Kiev last week although Ukraine's leaders
say about 100 were killed, some by police snipers, during protests
in Kiev that began last November.
Yanukovich, 63, resurfaced in southern Russia on Friday after a week
on the run, defiantly telling a packed room of journalists that he
was still leader of the sprawling former Soviet republic of 46
"Russia cannot be indifferent, cannot be a bystander watching the
fate of as close a partner as Ukraine," Yanukovich told a news
conference. "Russia must use all means at its disposal to end the
chaos and terror gripping Ukraine."
Putin has said nothing in public about the crisis since Yanukovich
was ousted a week ago.
A Kremlin statement this week offered conciliatory remarks about
international cooperation over heavily indebted Ukraine but Russian
officials have blamed the crisis on the West and accused it of
meddling in what Moscow considers its back yard. Loss of influence
in Ukraine is a bitter blow for Putin.
Moves are under way, however, to prop up Ukraine's economy. The new
Ukrainian leadership has said the country needs about $35 billion
over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.
It said on Friday it hoped to get financial aid soon and was
prepared to fulfill the reform criteria of the International
Monetary Fund, which will visit Kiev next week.
The fate of a $15-billion Russian bailout package is unclear, with
only about $3 billion of it released so far.
(Reporting By Timothy Heritage)
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