Putin tells Obama of Russia’s rights in Ukraine
The Russian parliament approved a request by President Putin for the use of military force in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. President Barack Obama by telephone that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, Reuters reported the Kremlin as saying.
In a statement posted online, the Kremlin said Obama had expressed concern about the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
“In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia’s armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kiev,” the statement said.
“The Russian President underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that if violence spread further in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers living there.”
Ukraine’s army has been put on alert, the country’s interim president Oleksanr Turchynov said Saturday, after Russia’s parliament approved the deployment of troops into the former soviet state, Agence France-Presse reported.
Turchynov made the announcement in a somber televised address to the nation, flanked by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin has won the approval from the Russian upper house of parliament to deploy troops in Ukraine on Saturday.
But the Kremlin said that a decision has not yet taken on sending troops to Ukraine.
“This is the point of view of the Federation Council (upper house). It is the president who takes the decision. For the moment, this decision has not been taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Putin earned the approval after the Federation Council began debating the request.
The extraordinary session began with a speech by Putin’s envoy Grigory Karasin on the need to approve the request, which was also backed by the heads of the Federation Council’s defense and foreign affairs committees.
Unlike most legislation in Russia, the use of armed forces abroad only requires the approval of the rubber-stamp Federation Council without any need for a preliminary approval from the State Duma lower house.
Meanwhile, Karasin said the approval doesn’t mean that Russia will send troops to Ukraine quickly.
“The consent which the president received does not mean literally that this right will be used quickly,” said Karasin.
Russian troops already in Crimea
On Saturday, Russian troops took over Crimea, the Associated Press reported.
The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the action by Russian troops based in the strategic region and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh on Saturday aaccused Russia of sending 30 armored personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea.
Russia’s escalation has also angered Ukrainian nationalists.
Ukraine’s nationalist Svoboda party and the far-right Pravy Sektor group, which both played a prominent role in protests that rocked the country, called Saturday for a “general mobilization.”
“It’s war! Ukrainian society must mobilize as much as possible,” Svoboda said in a statement, calling on Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov to consider the country as being in a "state of war" and to "declare general mobilization.”
Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), a far-right paramilitary group that arose from the three months of anti-government protests that precipitated the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych and whose members were at the frontlines of clashes with riot police, called on militants to “mobilize and arm themselves urgently.”
The EU has called for calm and urged Russia not to use military force while the U.S. said that it was reviewing Russia’s military moves in Ukraine and trying to figure out how to respond.
The U.N. chief called for immediate calm in Ukraine on Saturday as the Security Council convened an emergency session in New York.
Ban Ki-moon will express “grave” concerns directly to Putin by telephone, his spokesman said, as tensions escalated in Ukraine.
“He calls for an immediate restoration of calm and direct dialogue between all concerned to solve the current crisis,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.
“The secretary general wants to speak to President Putin directly to express his concerns. But also to hear directly from President Putin his assessment of the situation.”
Russia rejects talks
Earlier, Russia has turned down a request by Ukraine to hold talks under the auspices of an agreement that guarantees the country’s territorial integrity, Interfax news agency quoted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrij Deshchitsya as saying.
Ukraine had asked for consultations with Moscow after accusing it of deploying its military in the Crimea region.
“We are very worried about today's information that Russia has refused to take part,” Reuters quoted the minister as saying.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s new leader said he did not recognize the authority of the pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, who claimed power after the region’s parliament was seized by pro-Russian gunmen Thursday.
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement instructing “the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine and other government agencies not to view (Sergiy) Aksyonov as a representative of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.”
Meanwhile, Aksyonov called on Putin Saturday to help restore “peace and calm” to the Black Sea peninsula, amid a standoff with the new authorities in the capital Kiev, reported AFP.
“Taking into account my responsibility for the life and security of citizens, I ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help in ensuring peace and calm on the territory of Crimea,” Sergiy Aksyonov said in a statement broadcast in full by Russian state television.
Russia responded by saying it will not ignore Crimea leader’s request for help.
“Russia will not leave this request without attention,” a source in the Kremlin administration was quoted as saying by Russia’s main news agencies.
Chosen by local lawmakers in the autonomous republic of Crimea, Aksyonov’s appointment was not approved by the new authorities in Kiev who took over after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
He did not specify what the assistance from Putin and Russia might involve, AFP reported.
In the same address, Aksyonov said that the region’s security forces were now subordinate to him.
“As prime minister of Crimea, I have taken the decision to subordinate directly to me the units of the security forces of the interior ministry, security service, army, navy, tax service and border guards."
“I order all commanders to fulfill only my directives. All those who do not agree I ask to leave the service,” he added.
Meanhwile, the international airport at Simferopol, the main city in Ukraine’s Crimea region, said on Saturday its airspace was closed and there would be no flights to or from the airport.
“Due to limitations in the use of the airspace, the airport has temporarily suspended receiving flights,” the airport said in a written statement.
Armed men took control on the airport on Friday. Ukrainian military sources say that Russian servicemen also control military airports in Belbek near Sevastopol and in Kirovskoye in eastern Crimea.
Crimea, a southeastern peninsula of Ukraine that has semi-autonomous status, was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great. It became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.
Pro-Russia protest in Kharkiv
On Saturday, dozens were hurt when a pro-Russia protest in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv turned violent, with demonstrators trying to storm the local government building, an AFP reporter said.
Some 20,000 joined the protest against the new pro-West government. Later around 300 launched the assault on the government building. Stones and stun grenades were thrown though it was unclear by whom.
(With AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press)
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