A week after Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted
in Kiev, armed men took control of two airports in Crimea on Friday
in what Kiev described as an invasion and occupation by Moscow's
forces in a region with an ethnic Russian majority.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said Russia, which has a naval
base in Crimea, was following a scenario like the one before it went
to war with fellow former Soviet republic Georgia in 2008 over two
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, and Russian President Vladimir Putin considers hosting such
events as a way to show how far Russia has come since the Soviet
Union collapsed 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.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, dismissed
the criticism, saying any movements of its forces in Crimea were in
line with agreements with Ukraine.
Gunmen have taken over the regional parliament in Crimea, and
control the main international airport and a military airfield on
the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
A representative of Acting President Turchinov said 13 Russian
aircraft had landed with 150 personnel on each plane. The Ukrainian
leadership also said more than 10 Russian military helicopters flew
over Crimea, and Russian servicemen blockaded a unit of the
Ukrainian border guard near the port city of Sevastopol, home to
Russia's Black Sea fleet.
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 despite a
warning by Ukraine's Defense Ministry that "radical forces" planned
to disarm Ukrainian military units in Crimea.
Ukraine's leaders say about 100 people were killed, some of them by
police snipers, during protests in the Ukrainian capital Kiev that
began last November.
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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
He said he had not ordered police to open fire on the protesters in
Kiev and that Russia should use all means at its disposal to stop
what he described as chaos in Ukraine.
"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."
He said he had not seen Putin since fleeing to Russia but had spoken
to him by telephone and was surprised the Russian leader was not
more vocal on the crisis.
Putin has said nothing in public about the crisis since Yanukovich
was ousted a week ago.
A Kremlin statement 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.
COOPERATION OVER FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
The Russian Foreign ministry said on its Facebook page that Russia's
Consulate General in Crimea would hand out Russian passports to the
servicemen of Ukraine's now-disbanded Berkut riot police. Protesters
had accused the Berkut of firing the live bullets that killed dozens
of protesters in Kiev.
Moscow has also promised to defend the interests of its citizens in
Ukraine. It has said it will not intervene by force, but its
rhetoric has echoed the run-up to its war in Georgia, where it said
ethnic Russians in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia needed protection.
Any armed confrontation in Crimea would have major global
Moves are under way, however, to prop up Ukraine's faltering
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.
(Writing by Sabina Zawadzki and Timothy Heritage; Editing by Ken
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