The pro-Russia leader of Ukraine’s Crimea region claimed control of the military and police there yesterday and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two Slavic neighbor countries.
It was the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the EU and away from Russia.
Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a “military invasion and occupation” — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis and raised fears that Moscow is moving to intervene on the strategic peninsula where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based.
Ukraine’s population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU, while the eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.
Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region would answer only to his orders.
Russian lawmakers have urged Putin to take steps to stabilize the situation in Crimea and protect Russians there.
Russian Upper House Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said yesterday that Russia could deploy additional troops to Crimea to help protect the local population from the new Ukrainian authorities.
US President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday that “there will be costs” if it intervenes militarily.
Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward Ukraine after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country.