Russia makes its move.
UPDATE 3-1-2014: (LIVE Video and Twitter feeds at bottom of post)
It appears that Putin is getting set to, or already has, sent Russian troops to “protect” Russian-speaking populations in the Crimea after a “request” for help, and will use that pretext to send troops to other Russian speaking regions of Ukraine.
From Michael Weiss:
So Russia invaded Crimea.
Despite promising that it would not do so (well, except when saying that it might), Moscow just dispatched both conventional military and paramilitary forces to seize control of Crimea’s airspace, its ports, its highways, its television stations, and its regional government.
Russia’s upper house of parliament voted unanimously Saturday to approve sending Russian military forces into Ukraine, amid mounting tensions in the country’s Crimea region.
The vote followed a request from Russian President Vladimir Putin for approval to send Russian troops into Crimea to normalize the political situation there.
Due to the “extraordinary situation in Ukraine,” Putin said, there are threats to the lives of Russian citizens and Russian military personnel based in the southern Crimean region.
Ukraine’s new government condemned the move.
“We perceive Russia’s actions as direct aggression towards the sovereignty of Ukraine,” said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on the official Twitter account of his Fatherland party.
In Kharkov, pro-Russia groups have seized city hall:
It’s been an eventful day as the crisis in Ukraine continues. (Live coverage at the end of this post).
There have been reports throughout the day that unidentified gunmen had earlier occupied two airports in Ukraine’s Crimea, but officials maintain that the airports remain under Ukrainian control.
From CBS News:
A top Ukrainian security official said Friday that two airports in Crimea are under Ukrainian control despite attempts by gunmen to “seize” them.
Ukraine’s interior minister earlier Friday said Russian navy troops were blocking access to the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol, describing it as a “military invasion and occupation.” Russian state media said Russian forces in Crimea denied involvement.
But Ukraine’s Security Council Chief Andriy Parubiy insisted later Friday that the airports were still under Ukrainian control, according to the Interfax news agency.
Parubiy said the gunmen had set up checkpoints outside the airports. “But de-facto the airports are controlled by the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service said about 30 Russian paratroopers from the 810th brigade of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet had taken up position outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard base in the Sevastopol area. It said the paratroopers said they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.
Amid tensions in Crimea, the new Kiev government requested an emergency meeting with the U.N. Security Council, according to Reuters.
Also Friday, ousted president Viktor Yanukovich emerged for a press conference in which he insisted that he remained the legitimate leader of Ukraine.
Speaking from Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, Yanukovich denied that he had ordered police to fire on demonstrators during recent clashes in Kiev.
Making his first public appearance since his ouster Saturday, Yanukovych said the newly appointed interim government was not legitimate and did not represent the majority of Ukraine’s 45 million citizens. His press conference last more than an hour.
“I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine against those who, with fear and with terror, are attempting to replace the power,” Yanukovych said in Russian, not Ukrainian.
“Nobody has overturned me. I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to a direct threat to my life and my nearest and dearest.”
In his speech, Yanukovych accused the interim authorities in Ukraine of propagating violence. He spoke against a backdrop of Ukraine’s blue and yellow flags before reporters in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don about 700 miles south of Moscow.
He blamed them for last week’s bloodshed in which dozens of protesters died in clashes with security forces.
“I never gave any orders to shoot,” he said, adding that he sought peace and that the security forces took up arms only when their lives were at risk.
(The Kyiv Post has posted an unofficial translated transcript of the full news conference; it differs slightly from the translation on video).
President Obama also spoke late this afternoon about the situation in Ukraine, where he said that the Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future and warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.
From the Washington Post:
Speaking in the White House Briefing Room, Obama said he is “deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian federation inside of Ukraine.” He was apparently referring to reports that armed men, perhaps affiliated with the Russian army, had seized to airports in the Crimea region, a strategically important peninsula with a predominantly ethnic Russian population.
“There will be costs to any military intervention in Ukraine,” Obama said, adding that such a move would “invite the condemnation of nations around the world.”
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