Ukraine PM vows to protect against Russia

Arseniy Yatsenyuk's comments come after Russian forces took control of a Ukrainian border guard post in western Crimea trapping about 30 personnel inside

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Sunday vowed Ukraine would not give “an inch” of its territory to Russia, at a rally of thousands of people in Kiev in honor of 19th-century national hero Taras Shevchenko.

“This is our land. We will not give an inch of it. Russia and its president should know that,” Yatsenyuk said after Russian forces and pro-Kremlin gunmen seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea.

Russian forces took control of a Ukrainian border guard post in western Crimea, trapping about 30 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Chernomorskoye base on the western edge of the Back Sea peninsula had been taken over without bloodshed at around six a.m. (04:00 GMT), the spokesperson said by telephone.

Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts in Crimea, Slobodyan added.

Russian forces’ seizure of the southern Ukrainian region, which began 11 days ago, has been bloodless. Ukrainian troops are trapped in a number of bases but have offered no armed resistance.

Yatseniuk also said that he would go to the United States this week to discuss the standoff with Russia over Ukraine’s southern region of Crimea, Reuters news agency reported.

“I am going to the United states to hold top-level meetings on resolving the situation unfolding in our bilateral and multilateral relations,” Yatseniuk said at the start of a government meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

He did not immediately give any dates and provided no other details of the visit.

Meanwhile, Pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow groups clashed in the Crimean city of Sevastopol following a rally in support of Ukraine’s new government, an AFP reporter witnessed.

About 100 pro-Russians with clubs attacked some 20 people who were guarding the rally being held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of poet and national hero Taras Shevchenko, attended by some 200 people.

On Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed “grave concern” over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, following several calls made to key European allies.

Obama made calls to French counterpart Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian leader Matteo Renzi.

The remarks came as Washington warned further military escalation could jeopardize chances of brokering a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

“The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of international law and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a White House summary of the calls said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, the French presidency said in Paris that Hollande and Obama discussed “new measures” against Russia if it failed to act to defuse the crisis.

Hollande and Obama insisted on the “need for Russia to withdraw forces sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers,” Hollande’s office said.

“If there’s a lack of progress in this direction, new measures will be taken which would noticeably affect relations between the international community and Russia, which is in no-one’s interest.”

Unrest in Ukraine, which resulted in the ouster last month of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, has worsened since the Crimean parliament’s decision Thursday to secede and stage a March 16 referendum on joining Russia.

Ukraine also said there were now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea -- 5,000 more than the contingent allowed under an existing agreement with Kiev.

Russia says it has stepped up protection of its naval base on the peninsula and is working together with local self-defense units but refuses to acknowledge deploying extra troops.

(With AFP)

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