Russian President Vladimir Putin asks parliament to use military in Ukraine
Andrew Lubimov, Associated Press
KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country's military in Ukraine, moving to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea.
Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily.
"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine's strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature's upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution. The rubber-stamp parliament is certain to approve it in a vote expected Saturday.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.
It was the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union 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 European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.
Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region will answer only to his orders.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.
"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in 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 was quoted by the RIA-Novosti agency as saying the gas arrears would endanger a recent discount granted by Russia. The discount lowered the price to $268.50 per thousand from other $400. The Russian payment demand and loss of the discount would accelerate Ukraine's financial crisis. The county is almost broke and seeking emergency credit from the International Monetary Fund.
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.
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