An armed man stands guard at the local government
headquarters in Simferopol, Crimea . REUTERS/David
Ukraine have mobilised for war and Washington has
threatened to isolate Russia economically after President
Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his
neighbour in Moscow's biggest confrontation with the West since
the Cold War.
"This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of
war to my country," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk
said in English.
Yatsenuik heads a pro-Western government that took power in
the former Soviet republic when its Moscow-backed president,
Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted last week.
Putin secured permission from his parliament on Saturday
(local time) to use military force to protect Russian
citizens in Ukraine and told U.S. President Barack Obama he
had the right to defend Russian interests and nationals,
spurning Western pleas not to intervene.
Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea, an
isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base.
On Sunday, they surrounded several small Ukrainian military
outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some
refused, leading to standoffs, although no shots were fired.
As Western countries considered how to respond to the crisis,
the United States said it was focused on economic, diplomatic
and political measures, but made clear it was not seriously
considering military action.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Kiev on Tuesday
to show "strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty,
independence, territorial integrity, and the right of the
Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without
outside interference or provocation," the State Department
said in a statement.
MORE DEMONSTRATIONS IN EASTERN UKRAINE
With Russian forces in control of majority ethnic Russian
Crimea, the focus is shifting to eastern swaths of Ukraine,
where most ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian as a native
Those areas saw more demonstrations on Sunday after violent
protests on Saturday, and pro-Moscow activists hoisted flags
for a second day at government buildings and called for
Russia to defend them.
Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the
land border, but they have so far not crossed. Kiev said
Russia had sent hundreds of its citizens across the border to
stage the protests.
Ukraine's security council ordered the general staff to
immediately put all armed forces on highest alert. But Kiev's
small and under-equipped military is seen as no match for
Russia's superpower might.
The Defence Ministry was ordered to stage a call-up of
reserves, meaning theoretically all men up to 40 in a country
with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would
struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant
numbers of them.
Kerry condemned Russia for what he called an "incredible act
of aggression" and brandished the threat of economic
"You just don't, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century
fashion by invading another country on a completely
trumped-up pretext," Kerry told the CBS programme "Face
He said Moscow still had a "right set of choices" to defuse
the crisis. Otherwise, G8 countries and other nations were
prepared to "to go to the hilt to isolate Russia".
"They are prepared to isolate Russia economically. The rouble
is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges,"
he said. He mentioned visa bans, asset freezes and trade
isolation as possible steps.
Obama discussed the Ukraine crisis in calls with allies,
including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime
Minister David Cameron. Cameron said they agreed Russia would
pay "significant costs" unless it changed course.
Analysts said U.S. economic sanctions would likely have
little impact on Russia unless they were paired with strong
measures by major European nations, which have deeper trade
ties with Moscow and are dependent on Russian gas.
Ukraine's envoy to the United Nations said Kiev would ask for
international military support if Russia expanded its
military action in his country.
At Kiev's Independence Square, where anti-Yanukovich
protesters had camped out for months, thousands demonstrated
against Russian military action. Speakers delivered rousing
orations and placards read: "Putin, hands off Ukraine!"
"If there is a need to protect the nation, we will go and
defend the nation," said Oleh, an advertising executive
cooking over an open fire at the square where he has been
camped for three months. "If Putin wants to take Ukraine for
himself, he will fail. We want to live freely and we will
The new government announced it had fired the head of the
navy and launched a treason case against him for surrendering
Ukraine's naval headquarters to Russian forces in the Crimean
port of Sevastopol, where Moscow has a major naval base.
REACTION FROM THE WEST
Obama spoke to Putin for 90 minutes by telephone on Saturday
after the Russian leader declared he had the right to
intervene and quickly secured unanimous approval from his
The Kremlin said Putin told Obama that Russian speakers were
under threat from Ukraine's new leaders, who took over after
Yanukovich fled huge protests against his repression and
rejection of a trade deal with the European Union.
Putin reiterated that stance in a telephone call with Merkel
on Sunday, the Kremlin said, adding he and Merkel agreed that
Russia and Germany would continue consultations to seek the
"normalisation" of the situation.
But in a sign of concern among Russian liberals, members of
Putin's own human rights council urged him on Sunday not to
invade Ukraine, saying threats faced by Russians there were
not severe enough to justify sending in troops.
Ukraine, which says it has no intention of threatening
Russian speakers, has appealed for help to NATO, and directly
to Britain and the United States, as co-signatories with
Russia to a 1994 accord guaranteeing Ukraine's security.
After an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels,
the alliance called on Russia to bring its forces back to
bases and refrain from interfering in Ukraine.
Despite expressing "grave concern", NATO did not agree on any
significant measures to apply pressure to Russia, with the
West struggling to come up with a forthright response that
does not risk pushing the region closer to military conflict.
"We urge both parties to immediately seek a peaceful solution
through bilateral dialogue, with international facilitation
... and through the dispatch of international observers under
the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe," NATO
said in a statement.
Washington on Saturday proposed sending monitors to Ukraine
under the U.N. or OSCE flags.
So far, the Western response has been largely symbolic. Obama
and others suspended preparations for a G8 summit in Sochi,
where Russia has just finished staging its $50 billion winter
Olympic games. Some countries recalled ambassadors. Britain
said its ministers would stay away from the Paralympics due
next in Sochi.
"Right now, I think we are focused on political, diplomatic
and economic options," a senior U.S. official told reporters.
"Frankly our goal is to uphold the territorial integrity and
sovereignty of Ukraine, not to have a military escalation,"
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged world
leaders on Sunday to work to calm the crisis and defended
Russia's membership of the G8, saying it enabled the West to
talk directly with Moscow.
RUSSIANS IN CRIMEA
Ukraine's military is ill-matched against its neighbour.
Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies
estimates Kiev has fewer than 130,000 troops under arms, with
planes barely ready to fly and few spare parts for a single
Russia, by contrast, has spent billions under Putin to
upgrade and modernise the capabilities of forces that were
dilapidated after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Moscow's
special units are now seen as equals of the best in the
In Crimea, Ukraine's tiny contingent made no attempt to
oppose the Russians, who bore no insignia on their uniforms
but drove vehicles with Russian plates and seized government
buildings, airports and other locations in the past three
Kiev said its troops were encircled in at least three places.
It pulled its coast guard vessels out of Crimean ports.
Ukraine said its naval fleet's 10 ships were still in
Sevastopol and remained loyal to Kiev.
Scores of Russian troops with no insignia were camped outside
a base of Ukrainian troops at Perevalnoye, on a road from
Crimea's capital, Simferopol towards the coast.
A representative of the base commander said troops on both
sides had reached agreement so no blood would be shed.
"We are ready to protect the grounds and our military
equipment," Valery Boiko told Reuters television. "We hope
for a compromise to be reached, a decision, and as the
commander has said, there will be no war."
Igor Mamchev, a Ukrainian navy colonel at another small base
outside Simferopol, told Ukraine's Channel 5 TV that a
truckload of Russian troops had arrived at his checkpoint and
told his forces to lay down their arms.
"I replied that, as I am a member of the armed forces of
Ukraine, under orders of the Ukrainian navy, there could be
no discussion of disarmament. In case of any attempt to enter
the military base, we will use all means, up to lethal
A unit of Ukrainian marines was also holed up in a base in
the Crimean port of Feodosia, where they refused to disarm.
Elsewhere on the occupied peninsula, the Russian troops
assumed a lower profile on Sunday after the pro-Moscow
Crimean leader said overnight the situation was now
Putin's justification citing the need to protect Russian
citizens was the same as he used to launch a 2008 invasion of
Georgia, where Russian forces seized two breakaway regions.
In Russia, state-controlled media portray Yanukovich's
removal as a coup by dangerous extremists funded by the West
and there has been little sign of dissent with that line.
In Donetsk, Yanukovich's home city, the local government
building was flying the Russian flag for the second day on
Sunday. The local authorities have called for a referendum on
the region's status, a move Kiev says is illegal. A
pro-Russian "self-defence" unit held a second day of protest,
attracting about 1,000 demonstrators carrying Russian flags.