AS Russian armed forces effectively seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula Saturday, the Russian Parliament granted President Vladimir V Putin the authority he sought to use military force in response to the deepening instability in Ukraine.
The authorization cited a threat to lives of Russian citizens and soldiers stationed in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine, and provided a blunt answer to President Obama, who Friday pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.
Even before Putin’s statement in Moscow, scores of heavily armed soldiers had tightened their grip on the Crimean capital, Simferopol, surrounding government buildings, shuttering the airport, and blocking streets, where they deployed Friday.
Large pro-Russia crowds rallied in eastern cities of Donestk and Kharkiv, where there were reports of violence. In Kiev, fears grew within the new provisional government that separatist upheaval would fracture the country just days after civil unrest ended in the ouster of President Yanuovych, a Kremlin ally who fled to Russia.
In Crimea, scores of heavily armed men fanned out across the centre of the regional capital, Simferopol. They wore green camouflage uniforms with no identifying insignia, but they spoke Russian and were clearly part of a Russian military mobilization. In Balaklava, a long column of military vehicles blocking the road to a border post bore Russian plates.
On Saturday morning, there was no immediate response from White House; officials had acknowledged on Friday that Washington’s options were limited.
There was also limited response from Europe. Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, issued a statement saying Russia’s actions in Crimea were “contrary to international law and the principles of European security”.
While the West grappled for a response, a Ukrainian military official in Crimea said soldiers had been told to “open fire” if they came under attack by Russia troops.