Russia executed a de facto military takeover of a strategic region in Ukraine as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the swift takeover of Crimea by Russian troops already in Ukraine and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.
Putin’s move follows President Barack Obama’s warning Friday “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes militarily, sharply raising the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine’s future and evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship. The explicit reference to the use of troops escalated days of conflict between the two countries, which started when Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was pushed out by a protest movement of people who wanted closer ties to the European Union.
“I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” Putin said in his request sent to parliament.
Putin’s call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and clashed with supporters of the new Ukrainian government.
Russia’s upper house also recommended that Moscow recall its ambassador from Washington over Obama’s comments.
Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a “military invasion and occupation” of the Crimea peninsula, 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.”
The crisis was sparked when Ukraine’s deposed president, Victor Yanukovych, ditched a deal for closer ties to the EU and instead turned toward Moscow. Months of protests followed, culminating in security forces killing dozens of protesters and Yanukovych fleeing to Russia.
Ignoring Obama’s warning, Putin said the “extraordinary situation in Ukraine” was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at a naval base that Moscow has maintained in the Black Sea peninsula since the Soviet collapse.
Reflecting a degree of caution, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who presented Putin’s request to the upper house, told reporters that the motion doesn’t mean that the president would immediately send additional troops to Ukraine.
“There is no talk about it yet,” he said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in remarks on Rossiya 24 television that while the president “got the entire arsenal of means necessary for settling this situation,” he hadn’t yet decided whether to use the Russian military in Ukraine or recall the ambassador from Washington.
“He will make these decisions depending on how the situation will develop,” Peskov said. “We continued…