News is fast and furious in Ukraine.
- Putin received approval to send Russian troops into Ukraine from Russian parliament.
- Russian troops seized Crimea
- Russian anti-submarine warships appear off Ukraine coast near Sevastopol in violation of naval agreement
- Ukraine troops are on combat notice.
- UN Security Council meets.
- Obama warns Russia
The Telegraph has a live blog on Ukraine going with some of those headlines and this image of Kharkiv in which protesters have raised the Russian flag.
Russian Troops Seize Crimea
Reuters reports Troops Seize Crimea.
Talk of confrontation or outright war spread rapidly across Ukraine, with pro-Moscow demonstrators raising the Russian flag above government buildings in several cities and anti-Russian politicians calling for mobilization.
Troops with no uniform insignia but clearly Russian – some in vehicles with Russian number plates – have already seized Crimea, an isolated peninsula in the Black Sea where Moscow has a large military presence in the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet. Kiev’s new authorities have been powerless to intervene.
Western capitals scrambled for a response, but so far this has been limited to angry words from Washington and its European allies.
So far there has been no sign of Russian military action in Ukraine outside Crimea, the only part of the country with a Russian ethnic majority, which has often voiced separatist aims.
As tension built on Saturday, demonstrations occasionally turned violent in eastern cities, where most people, though ethnically Ukrainian, are Russian speakers, and many support deposed President Viktor Yanukovich and Moscow.
Demonstrators flew Russian flags at government buildings in the cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk.
In Kharkiv, scores of people were wounded in clashes when thousands of pro-Russian activists stormed the regional government headquarters, and fought pitched battles with a smaller number of supporters of Ukraine’s new authorities.
Pro-Russian demonstrators wielded axe handles and chains against those defending the building with plastic shields.
In Donetsk, Yanukovich’s home region, lawmakers declared they were seeking a referendum on the region’s status.
“We do not recognize the authorities in Kiev, they are not legitimate,” protest leader Pavel Guberev thundered from a podium in Donetsk.
Thousands of followers, holding a giant Russian flag and chanting “Russia, Russia” marched to the government headquarters and replaced the Ukrainian flag with Russia’s.
Coal miner Gennady Pavlov said Putin’s declaration of the right to intervene was “right”.
“It is time to put an end to this lawlessness. Russians are our brothers. I support the forces.”
“WAR HAS ARRIVED”
Although there was little doubt that the troops without insignia that have already seized Crimea are Russian, the Kremlin has not yet openly confirmed it.
For many in Ukraine, the prospect of a military conflict chilled the blood.
“When a Slav fights another Slav, the result is devastating,” said Natalia Kuharchuk, a Kiev accountant.
“God save us.”
Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Odessa
ABC News has some additional details in Russian Troops Take Over Ukraine’s Crimea Region
Russian troops took over Crimea as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to use the military to protect Russian interests in Ukraine. 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.
Ignoring President Barack Obama’s warning Friday that “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes militarily, Putin sharply raised the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine’s future evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship.
Ukraine’s population of 46 million is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea, a semi-autonomous region that Russia gave to Ukraine in the 1950s, is mainly Russian-speaking.
Pro-Russian protests were reported Saturday in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern port of Odessa. In Kharkiv, 97 people were injured in clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators who flushed supporters of the new Ukrainian government out of the regional government building and hoisted the Russian flag on top of it, according to the Interfax news agency.
Trenin, of Moscow’s Carnegie office, said that Putin could be seeking to “include a Crimea within the Russian Federation and eastern and southern regions of Ukraine forming a separate entity integrated with Russia economically and aligned with it politically.”
In Crimea, the new pro-Russian prime minister — who came to power after the gunmen swept into parliament on Thursday — claimed control of the military and police and asked Putin for help in keeping peace. There was no visible presence of Ukrainian troops Saturday.
Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.
Russia put pressure on Ukraine from another direction when a spokesman for state gas company Gazprom said that Ukraine owed $1.59 billion in overdue bills for imported gas. Sergei Kuprianov said in a statement carried by Russian news wires that the gas arrears would endanger a recent discount granted by Russia.
The Russian payment demand and loss of the discount would accelerate Ukraine’s financial crisis. The country is almost broke and seeking emergency credit from the International Monetary Fund.
The tensions barely touched everyday life in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, or anywhere on the peninsula. Children played on swings a few blocks from the parliament building, and most of the city’s stores were open. Couples walked hand-in-hand through parks. Crimea’s airports — civilian and military — were closed to air traffic, but trains and cars were moving to and from the Ukrainian mainland.
“Things are normal,” said Olga Saldovskaia, who was walking through town with her son and grandson. While she doesn’t like having gunmen in the streets, like many people in this overwhelmingly ethnic Russian city, she also found their presence reassuring.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock