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Russian troops take over Ukraine's Crimea region

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:18 a.m. HST, Mar 02, 2014

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine >> Russian troops took over the strategic Crimean peninsula Saturday without firing a shot. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react, and despite calls by U.S. President Barack Obama for Russia to pull back its forces, Western governments had few options to counter Russia's military moves.

Putin sought and quickly got his parliament's approval to use its military to protect Russia's interests across Ukraine. But while sometimes-violent pro-Russian protests broke out Saturday in a number of Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine, Moscow's immediate focus appeared to be Crimea.

Tensions increased when Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, made a late night announcement that he had ordered the country's armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression."

Speaking live on Ukrainian TV, Turchynov said he had also ordered stepped up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

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

After Russia's parliament approved Putin's motion, U.S. officials held a high-level meeting at the White House to review Russia's military moves in Ukraine. The White House said President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The White House said Obama told Putin that the United States is calling on Russia "to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine."

A statement from the Kremlin said Putin emphasized to Obama the existence of "real threats" to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots who are in Ukrainian territory. The statement indicated that Russia might send its troops not only to the Crimea but also to predominantly ethnic Russian regions of eastern Ukraine.

"Vladimir Putin emphasized that, in the case of a further spread in violence in eastern regions (of Ukraine) and Crimea, Russia maintains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population that lives there," the Kremlin statement said.

Obama told Putin that he would support sending international monitors to Ukraine to help protect ethnic Russians. He said the U.S. will suspend its participation in preparatory meetings for June's G-8 summit in Sochi, Russia, the site of the recently concluded Winter Olympics, warning that Russia's "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."

NATO announced a meeting for Sunday of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's political decision-making body, as well as a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allies will "coordinate closely" on the situation in Ukraine, which he termed "grave."

The U.N. Security Council met in an open, televised session for about a half hour on Saturday afternoon after closed-door consultations, despite initial objections from Russia to an open session. The council heard speeches from a U.N. deputy secretary-general and several ambassadors, but did not take any action.

Ukraine's Ambassador to the U.N. Yuriy Sergeyev asked the Security Council "to do everything possible now" to stop what he called Russian "aggression." Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said the government in Kiev needs to get away from "radicals" and warned, "such actions they're taking could lead to very difficult developments, which the Russian Federation is trying to avoid." He said Russia was intervening at the request of pro-Russian authorities in the autonomous Crimea region that is part of Ukraine.

Calling the situation in Ukraine "as dangerous as it is destabilizing," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said, "It is time for the Russian military intervention in Ukraine to end." She warned that "Russia's provocative actions could easily push the situation beyond the breaking point." She asked that Russia directly engage the Ukraine government and called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation.

"Russia and the West find themselves on the brink of a confrontation far worse than in 2008 over Georgia," Dmitri Trenin, the director of Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a commentary posted on its website. In Georgia, Russian troops quickly routed the Georgian military after they tried to regain control over the separatist province of South Ossetia that has close ties with Moscow.

The latest moves followed days of scripted, bloodless turmoil on the peninsula, the scene of centuries of wars and seen by Moscow as a crown jewel of the Russian and Soviet empires. What began Thursday with the early-morning takeover of the regional parliament building by mysterious troops continued Saturday afternoon as dozens of those soldiers -- almost certainly Russian -- moved into the streets around the parliamentary complex and seized control of regional airports, amid street protests by pro-Russian Crimeans calling for Moscow's protection from the new government in Kiev.

That government came to power last week in the wake of months of pro-democracy protests against the now-fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia, its longtime patron, instead of the European Union. Despite the calls for Moscow's help, there has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine.

Obama on Friday called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor's political upheaval.

He said such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said should be decided by the Ukrainian people. He has not said, however, how the U.S. could pressure Moscow to step back from its intervention.

The Russian parliament urged that Moscow recall its ambassador in Washington in response to Obama's speech.

On Friday, Ukraine accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" in the Crimea, 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."

Ukraine's population of 46 million 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, a semi-autonomous region that Russia gave to Ukraine in the 1950s, is mainly Russian-speaking.

In his address to parliament, Putin said the "extraordinary situation in Ukraine" was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at the Crimean naval base that Moscow has maintained since the Soviet collapse.

Despite Putin's sharp move, there were possible signs Saturday that the Russian leader could soften his approach. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed a week ago after more than 2 1/2 years in prison, was reported to be heading to Moscow for a meeting with Putin on Monday, though her spokeswoman denied that. Putin has had good ties with Tymoshenko in the past, and he may look to her for a possible compromise.

In a statement posted on her party's web site, Tymoshenko urged the U.N. Security Council to meet in Kiev and asked the EU leaders to convene a meeting in Crimea. She urged the West to help protect Ukraine's territorial integrity, asked Ukrainians to remain calm and voiced hope that diplomacy will succeed.

Putin's parliamentary motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, where many detest the new authorities in Kiev.

But in a note of restraint, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said the motion doesn't mean the president would immediately send additional troops to Ukraine. "There is no talk about it yet," he said.

Pro-Russian protests were reported Saturday in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern port of Odessa. In Kharkiv, 97 people were injured in clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators who flushed supporters of the new Ukrainian government out of the regional government building and hoisted the Russian flag on top of it, according to the Interfax news agency.

Trenin, of Moscow's Carnegie office, said that Putin could be seeking to "include Crimea within the Russian Federation and eastern and southern regions of Ukraine forming a separate entity integrated with Russia economically and aligned with it politically."

"It is not clear at this point whether Kiev will be left to build a rump Ukraine with the western regions or whether it will be swayed to join the eastern regions," he wrote.

In Crimea, the new pro-Russian prime minister -- who came to power after the gunmen swept into parliament on Thursday -- claimed control of the military and police and asked Putin for help in keeping peace. There was no visible presence of Ukrainian troops Saturday.

The deputy premier in the Crimean government told Russian news agency RIA Novsti that Ukrainian troops were disarmed and others joined the Crimean people to help patrol the territory. The report couldn't immediately be confirmed.

Crimean Tatars, the historic hosts of the land who make up 12 percent of the island's population and stand strongly for Crimea remaining part of Ukraine, didn't put up any visible resistance Saturday.

"The last two or three days have turned around the life of all the people in Crimea," said Refat Chubarov, a Crimean Tatar leader. "They've taken over military bases and civil institutions. That's why Crimean society is filled with fear. People are afraid of everyone and everything."

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt summed the situation up simply: "What's happening in Crimea is a Russian takeover. There is no doubt about that," he told Swedish Radio. "Russian military forces are involved and there has been a local takeover of power."

Russia put pressure on Ukraine from another direction when a spokesman for state gas company Gazprom said that Ukraine owed $1.59 billion in overdue bills for imported gas. Sergei Kuprianov said in a statement carried by Russian news wires that the gas arrears would endanger a recent discount granted by Russia.

The Russian payment demand and loss of the discount would accelerate Ukraine's financial crisis. The country is almost broke and seeking emergency credit from the International Monetary Fund.

The tensions barely touched everyday life in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, or anywhere on the peninsula. Children played on swings a few blocks from the parliament building, and most of the city's stores were open. Couples walked hand-in-hand through parks. Crimea's airports -- civilian and military -- were closed to air traffic, but trains and cars were moving to and from the Ukrainian mainland. The civilian airport in Simferopol was reopened late Saturday night.

"Things are normal," said Olga Saldovskaia, who was walking through town with her son and grandson. While she doesn't like having gunmen in the streets, like many people in this overwhelmingly ethnic Russian city, she also found their presence reassuring.

"If anyone tries to hurt the people here, they will protect us," said Saldovskaia. She said she sympathized with the pro-democracy protesters in Kiev, but also worries that turmoil in the capital could lead to violence against ethnic Russians. She added, though, that she definitely doesn't want Crimea to become part of Russia.

"Russia is not just all flowers and candy," she said.

Moscow has remained silent on claims that Russian troops are already in control of much of the peninsula, saying any troop movements are within agreed-upon rules governing the semi-autonomous Ukrainian region.

Meanwhile, flights remained halted at Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

AP journalists crossing into Crimea from mainland Ukraine were briefly stopped at a checkpoint manned by troops in unmarked camouflage uniforms as well as officers in uniforms of the Berkut, the feared riot police that cracked down on anti-Yanukovych protesters before he fled the capital a week ago.


Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. AP reporters Karl Ritter and David McHugh in Kiev, Julia Subbotovska in Simferopol, and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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st1d wrote:
meanwhile, bubbama plays with crayons drawing lines in the air.
on March 1,2014 | 03:31AM
hanalei395 wrote:
If that means that you want U.S. troops in Ukraine, those lines should be an "x" on your face. There will be NO U.S. troops in Ukraine nor will the U.S. be militarily involved.
on March 1,2014 | 03:48AM
richierich wrote:
I don't want our troops in the Ukraine either. What I want is for our Commander in Chief to stop drawing red lines that he has no intent on enforcing. It sets a bad example and will only prompt our adversaries to test us.
on March 1,2014 | 05:26AM
hanalei395 wrote:
If there are "red lines", the U.S. military WILL NOT be involved in those "red lines". And your "I don't want our troops in the Ukraine either". That's an understatement. Neither does the Russians.
on March 1,2014 | 05:56AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
Putin tested Obama when he invaded Georgia. Putin knows this administration is weak and inept.
on March 1,2014 | 06:00AM
hanalei395 wrote:
If you mean for not helping Georgia militarily, then that means you're stupid.
on March 1,2014 | 06:38AM
DAGR81 wrote:
obama believes that his cellphone and his pen is mightier than the sword...now that is stupidity.
on March 1,2014 | 08:55AM
hanalei395 wrote:
So you want the "sword", ... to have a war with Russia. "Now that is stupidity". And YOU ARE stupid.
on March 1,2014 | 09:47AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Compare the Russian armed military invasion and occupation of Crimea, and the threatened invasion of the rest of Ukraine, against what some people like to call "the armed U.S. invasion of Hawaii" with 162 peacekeepers in 1893. See if you can figure out which one is really an invasion and occupation.
on March 1,2014 | 04:55PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Also compare the reactions of other nations in 1893 Hawaii vs. the reactions of other nations in 2014 Crimea. In 1893 every nation which has local consulates in Honolulu gave recognition to the Provisional Government within 2 days after the revolution, because it was an internal revolution and not an external invasion. In 2014, nobody is giving recognition to the Russification of Crimea because it is clearly an invasion by outside military forces.
on March 1,2014 | 05:02PM
palani wrote:
You are forgetting about his majesty's "reset" of relations with Russia. Of course, to the rest of the world, that's just another word for "retreat".
on March 1,2014 | 03:48AM
richierich wrote:
Meanwhile in the Oval office, "This time I really really mean it."
on March 1,2014 | 04:53AM
inHilo wrote:
Sof far, most of the posters sound like the tough guys who, in order to satisfy their armchair bravado, are willing to send other people to die. I'm sure they'd all do such a great job deciding what to do in this dangerous and complicated situation, especially when people start dying and the conflict escalates. You do realize that this is an area that has seen two world wars just in recent history? You do realize that in WWII we lost 400,000 lives and the Russians lost 24 million?
on March 1,2014 | 05:52AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
The gains we made during the cold war years we are slowly losing. We ain't going to war cause this administration does not know how. Going to war against the Citizens of the USA is what they do better.
on March 1,2014 | 06:43AM
cojef wrote:
Yep, by spying on the population and waging class , gender, sex, race, religion and you name it against our own people. Transparency is absent, yet the ex-community organizer in 2008 promised it while running for the Presidency. Promises were broken and replaced by lies and cover-ups after he got elected and re-elected. Accountability is wholly lacking and it has all the earmarks of a "DUD"
on March 1,2014 | 07:14AM
warrenkim wrote:
Russia has one of the bloodiest history of repeated invasions. Russia has always wanted a buffer area around their country. It is in their backyard, not ours. We have a completely different perspective than Russia. Russia's powers have considerably weakened and much of was their choice. Cool heads should prevail.
on March 1,2014 | 07:27AM
cojef wrote:
Sevastopol was what Putin wanted for strategic purposes. Now their naval forces can be berthed there and have a warm water naval base. The Mediterranean Sea will now be under their influence and the second "Cold War" will emerge. The "Big Stick" we used to thump internationally has been reduced a "twig". Remind me of a skinny little model, "Twiggy".
on March 1,2014 | 02:37PM
Anonymous wrote:
Instead of golfing and dining with his buddies obama should have a good old fashion sit down with Putin.
on March 1,2014 | 06:33AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
We no longer have effective foreign policy.
on March 1,2014 | 07:04AM
kumasachi wrote:
Barry has lied so much and that is why no one with a brain belives anything he says!
on March 1,2014 | 07:37AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Not getting involved in Ukraine IS effective foreign policy.
on March 1,2014 | 04:34PM
kamoae wrote:
Lets hope we stay OUT of this conflict and mind our own business!
on March 1,2014 | 07:13AM
808comp wrote:
We should not get our military involved in this,and alot of people think that our country is getting weak. I belive not, it may seems like it but other leaders shoudn't push their luck because their going to get a big surprise out of Washington.
on March 1,2014 | 08:45AM
Ronin006 wrote:
President Obama gave Putin to OK to send troops into the Ukraine when he drew his red line in the sand with Syria and did nothing when Syria crossed it. I am sure Putin was shaking in his boots when Obama said “there would be costs” if Russia intervened militarily, but it was not from fear of Obama; it was from Putin laughing so hard at the dimwit we have in the White House
on March 1,2014 | 08:58AM
samidunn wrote:
Get use to headlines like this from Russia, China and Iran. They all know for the next two years it's open season.
on March 1,2014 | 09:48AM
MizuInOz wrote:
What none of the posters in the thread get is that Russia has always felt that the Crimea is part of Russia. It has not been a part of the Ukraine for very long and Russia has always wanted it back. Yes, this is like Georgia in 2008. Exactly. And Putin is a chess player. Except he has both white pieces and black pieces on the board on his side. People here do not understand the Eastern European mind and how it works. Otherwise, the comments wouldn't be only about the ineptitude of the current POTUS but also of the craftiness of Russia and Crimea. Most Crimea citizens want to return to the Russian fold. They would be living a bit of a better life - not much but a bit. And they wouldn't have to speak Ukrainian anymore. There is a bitter split between Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine. The West is pro EU and the West. The East loves Putin. Adores Putin. Russia will invade (they already have over 2000 troops deployed) and they will reclaim Crimea. And even the UN will look away. Will US troops be involved? Nope. Not even. When Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met in Yalta, it was part of Russia. Think about it. Study your history. Get to know the region.
on March 1,2014 | 09:50AM
Winston wrote:
Problem is that we have no reason to expect this to be the end of what Putin wants. I suspect he'd like to have a "buffer" again in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. And why not Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. All of Ukraine?

There are news articles out today about the Russians quest for military basing rights in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and others.

Vladimir wants to piece together his former Soviet empire/influence.

It's time we stopped the juvenile diplomacy with Russia (Reset Buttons???) and recognized them for what they are, a strategic adversary aimed at damaging US interests in the world. They are weaker, but still dangerous, especially with weak leadership in the White House. Its way past time for us to push back hard. Otherwise, we do nothing but encourage Putin, the former KGB head, to more aggressive acts.

on March 1,2014 | 10:17AM
MizuInOz wrote:
Winston, I agree with you completely. Putin wants to pass "legislation" where he can be "re-elected" indefinitely. What does that sound like? We will see a pogrom in the Ukraine - starting with ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and then on to the Western portion of the country. Russia didn't like the tactics of the Eastern Ukrainians during WW2, so they starved them - 35 million people died. Most Westerners don't know that bit. And everyone thinks Hitler was evil. Stalin had him beat by far. Stalin was the Devil incarnate. Now Mr. Showman Putin wants to show the world that Russia can take back all it lost with the breakup of the USSR. Only problem is that the Russian Military is not in too good of shape. Sevastopol has an aging fleet. Not even good for target practice. But Russia has been there for 240 years. If the US gets involved, either through NATO or the UN, we will be biting off more than we can chew in any way. Russians have nukes. There are now Russian vessels in the Western Hemisphere. And the Chinese are paying to build another canal through Central America. Why? America - all of us - need to start paying more attention. And talk frankly to our political leaders. This is far more important than sports and social media. Seriously.
on March 1,2014 | 01:18PM
samidunn wrote:
The people on Sakhalin Island want to return to Japan. What do you think would happen if Japan invaded?
on March 1,2014 | 10:21AM
entrkn wrote:
Time to move the A-10s nearby...
on March 1,2014 | 11:11AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"Move" toward Russia" .....Or "move" away from Russia. (A "move" into Ukraine, IS a "move" toward Russia).
on March 1,2014 | 11:41AM
DAGR81 wrote:
Don't let it bother you...get some rest.
on March 1,2014 | 03:21PM
WhyBother wrote:
Russia/Putin have complete disdain for anything coming out of the White House and President Obama. Clearly, no concern over what President Obama says or does which reflects the lack of influence the U.S. has with this administration. President Obama is naive and incompetent in international affairs and weaker than President Carter (which I didn't think was possible). Better to say nothing than to make statements everyone knows he will not live up to
on March 1,2014 | 11:34AM
HD36 wrote:
The truth is western central banks want Ukraine to join the EU because the strategic gas pipeline running from Russia supplies western Europe. By loaning the Ukraine billions of dollars, we can maintain US dollar hegemony over the world and keep the status as the world's reserve currency. If Russia gains control, they could accept payment in any currency they wanted and further weaken the Petro Dollar Recyling system. The same scenario has played out in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran. Once the US loses the world's reserve currency, we'll be living in third world conditions.
on March 1,2014 | 01:03PM
cojef wrote:
You hit the nail on the head. Controlling the pipelines to port internationally makes a lot of sense and Yalta and Sevastopol provide that.
on March 1,2014 | 02:46PM
MizuInOz wrote:
Russia already controls the petrol moving into the Ukraine. The Ukraine has been getting a sizable discount because the two countries have been friendly. BUT the Ukraine owes Russia billions (I think it is 12 but can't remember exactly) and a new delivery contract is due this month - raise the rates, probably. And the Ukraine will suffer. That's where Russia really has the Ukraine by the ... um, throat. That is the Ukraine's real weakness. It isn't about international shipments. It is internal. Most especially since it is winter there. Shell Oil just signed a major exploration agreement with the Ukraine to find Shale Oil. It would lessen, if not totally remove their dependence upon Russia for fuel - both gas and heating fuels. Russia doesn't like that. Obviously.
on March 1,2014 | 06:03PM
ryan02 wrote:
The US has a looooong history of intervening in foreign power struggles to "protect US interests there." If I were Russia, I would tell the US to suck it. Not that it excuses what Russia is doing, but the US doesn't exactly have the moral high ground from which to preach.
on March 1,2014 | 01:59PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I was surprised to learn that we have more people on food stamps in the US than the total population of Ukraine. Tell me again about our priorities?
on March 1,2014 | 05:00PM
krusha wrote:
The Ukraine needs to unleash their military or they face the real threat of the Crimea being officially annexed by Russia for good.
on March 1,2014 | 02:34PM
frontman wrote:
And Obama misses a security meeting on the problem.........................what a loser.
on March 1,2014 | 03:41PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Hey! His wife modified food labels at a cost to business of $2 billion and that should count for something.
on March 1,2014 | 04:43PM
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