Forces thought to be Russian stormed a Ukrainian base in Crimea (LIVE BLOG)

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The "USS Truxtun" destroyer passes the Bosphorus Strait on March 7, 2014 on its way to the Black Sea in response to the crisis in Crimea.


UPDATE: 3/7/14 5:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 5:00 PM ET

Soldiers under siege

Agence France-Presse — It's seven in the morning and the alarm clock buzzes: a new day dawns for Oleksandr — a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea living under siege from a foreign army.

For the past week, this 27-year-old aviation mechanic has been stuck at his base in Belbek, Sevastopol's military airport, surrounded by Russian forces and kept away from his wife and six-month-old baby.

"I usually work eight to five," says the blue-eyed young soldier as he stares out from behind the gates of the base.

"I refuel planes but since the Russians arrived we all sleep here in the barracks," says Oleksandr, whose family lives off base.

"We're on sentry duty. Nobody knows how long this is going to last. For the moment, they're allowing food supplies through."

One morning, well-armed professional soldiers turned up near the Mig fighter jet hangars where Oleksandr works.

They wore no identification or flag but to Oleksandr's trained eye they were clearly members of Russia's special forces.

Read the full story at Agence France-Presse.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 4:50 PM ET

Militia on media attacks?

Varied reports of journalists being roughed up or beaten:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 4:40 PM ET

Sevastopol from Space

Sevastopol, in Ukraine's Crimea, as seen from the International Space Station. (NASA)

UPDATE: 3/7/14 4:20 PM ET

'And the Russians left...'

And more from the Guardian's Shaun Walker, who is in Crimea:

Shaun is told that Russian troops stormed a gate and threatened to shoot to kill; the Ukrainians ignored them; local “self-defense” forces arrived and beat journalists on the scene; and the Russians left.

And this from Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz's reporter:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:50 PM ET

'The attack is on,' says Ukrainian deputy commander

TIME's Simon Shuster, who is in Crimea, reported:

“The attack is on,” says Colonel Viktor Kukharchenko, the deputy commander of another Ukrainian air force base in Crimea. “The Russian forces are now trying to take the rest of the base. Their commander is negotiating with our forces, demanding they lay down their arms and surrender.”

Read the full report at TIME.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:45 PM ET

Media having a hard time confirming reports

The Guardian's live blog points out journalists at the scene are having a hard time getting close to the base to confirm the reports:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:35 PM ET

No shots fired as Russians take over Ukrainian post

Reuters — Armed men thought to be Russians drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defense post in the Crimea region on Friday and took control without a shot being fired, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.

Initial reports said the truck had smashed through the gates and that post in the city of Sevastopol was being stormed but the reporter could not see any signs of the gates being damaged.

A Ukrainian military official, Vladislav Seleznyov, said by telephone that the armed men took over the base without any shooting and that no one was hurt.

Another Ukrainian official told Reuters at the post that he was now mediating between the Ukrainian forces and the armed group inside, and that no arms had been seized.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:30 PM ET

Plans for a referendum are dividing Crimea

GlobalPost contributor Nicholas Clayton reports from Sevastopol, in the Crimean region of Ukraine:

Ivan Komelov, a representative of the new pro-Moscow government in Sevastopol, said it was forced to move quickly on the referendum because of “colossal” pressure on the region from the new government in Kyiv.

Acknowledging that a vote for secession would isolate Crimea without the recognition of the international community, he said, “Sometimes, isolation is better than genocide.”

“It’s clear from the statements of the Ukrainian government that they will do everything to keep us as a part of the country and the Russian-speaking population will be practically destroyed,” he said.

But not everyone in Sevastopol agrees.

Read his full report here.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:25 PM ET

More on reported seizure Ukrainian military base

More on those reports of possible Russian forces seizing a Ukrainian military base:

BBC News reported:

Armed men thought to be Russian have seized a Ukrainian military base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

A Reuters news agency journalist said no shots were fired and negotiations between the two sides were going on.

Interfax-Ukraine earlier reported that about 100 Ukrainian servicemen had been deployed at the base before the raid.

[h/t Interpreter Mag]

UPDATE: 3/7/14 3:15 PM ET

Reports of possibly Russian forces seizing Ukrainian military base

These reports are not confirmed, but we are following:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 2:15 PM ET

A referendum is legal, a secession is not

GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka takes a look at the legality of Crimea's referendum:

"The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law," US President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

"In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders," Obama added.

Now-ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was democratically elected in 2010, beating rival Yulia Tymoshenko 49 percent to 45.5 percent in an election that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called an 'impressive display' of democracy — which would make Yanukovych the democratic leader of Ukraine, unless you count the mass anti-Yanukovych movement on Independence Square as an... election? Referendum?

International law on referendums is vague at best: Spain will not recognize Catalonia's referendum later this year, yet the British government came to an agreement with Scotland to hold a referendum on its independence. Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia following a referendum in 1991, went through a war, and gained independence — and Ukraine was one of the first countries to recognize it.

The 2010 Ukrainian constitution states that local referendums are indeed allowed. From Article 38: "Citizens have the right to participate in the administration of state affairs, in All-Ukrainian and local referendums...". In fact, Crimea has a direct right to hold referendums, under Article 138: "The competence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea comprises: ... 2. organizing and conducting local referendums... ."

Here's what Article 70 has to say on the rights of Crimeans to a referendum? "Citizens of Ukraine who have attained the age of eighteen on the day elections and referendums are held, have the right to vote at the elections and referendums. Citizens deemed by a court to be incompetent do not have the right to vote." So the referendum is entirely legal and the Crimeans are not breaking any laws by holding it and letting the rest of the world know what they think.

What is unconstitutional is secession from Ukraine as a result of such a referendum. Article 73 states: "Issues of altering the territory of Ukraine are resolved exclusively by an All-Ukrainian referendum." In order to hold an All-Ukrainian referendum, those seeking Crimean secession would need to get 3 million signatures, with the added caveat that over 100,000 signatures must be obtained in each of no less than two-thirds of the country's oblasts (regions). According to the last census, there are over 8 million Russians in Ukraine, and while the majority of them are in Eastern Ukraine, substantial numbers reside all around the country and in each of the oblasts.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 1:10 PM ET

Turkish prime minister says he won't abandon Tatars

Crimea's Tatars found an ally in Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, when he said, "We will not leave Crimean Tatars in the lurch."

Speaking at a rally, Erdogan said of the group of Turkic-speaking Muslims, "I have talked to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin on the events in Crimea and told him that Russia should protect the rights of Crimean Tatars as they do with the Russian majority and other minorities in Crimea."

Read more at Turkey's Andalou Agency.

Meanwhile, this was the scene in Moscow:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 12:30 PM ET

Ukraine's prime minister says no one will recognize Crimea's secession

Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, told CNBC, "No one will recognize this referendum, apart from maybe North Korea, Syria and Venezuela."

"I want to be very clear—Crimea was, is, and will be an integral part of Ukraine. No concessions. Full stop."


UPDATE: 3/7/14 11:25 AM ET

Crimean Tatars leaving Ukraine

Agence France-Presse — In the city of Lviv, across Ukraine from the crisis gripping

Crimea, a group of Tatars fleeing the troubled peninsula disembarks on a train platform looking for security away from Russian forces.

"I'm scared for my children as long as Russian soldiers are in Crimea," said a young Tatar mother accompanied by her three children, aged two to five.

"Here I feel safe," she added, one of 200 Crimean residents who have accepted an invitation from Lviv authorities to come and stay in this bastion of Ukrainian nationalism in the west of the country near the Polish border.

Crimea, a Russian-speaking autonomous region of Ukraine, has come under the de facto control of Russian forces, and its regional parliament has unanimously voted to join Russia -- raising the spectre of the break-up of Ukraine.

Most of the Crimean residents now arriving in Lviv are Tatars, the peninsula's Muslim minority, which was deported to Siberia and central Asia under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and returned after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

For them, the creeping advance of Russian forces since late February has been especially alarming.

GlobalPost contributor Ben C. Solomon spoke to some Crimean Tatars in Crimea:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 11:20 AM ET

Tymoshenko warns of guerrilla warfare

Reuters — Leading Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko said there was a danger of guerrilla war in Crimea should it be incorporated into Russia and appealed to Germany and others on Friday for immediate economic sanctions against Moscow.

She said a Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula would create long-term dangers for the whole region.

Speaking to Reuters after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Tymoshenko said international measures against Russia had so far been ineffective and called for immediate action to prevent a "flashpoint."

"As of today, those instruments that have already been applied by the US and the EU didn't produce any tangible effects," she said, summarizing her message to Merkel.

"If these instruments do not produce results, there are two options left. To opt for next strongest sanctions, I proposed a set of nonviolent, economic measures." The alternative, she said, was to give Crimea to Russia.

"They have to be very convincing for Putin to send the strongest signal that it would not be tolerated."

Read the full report at Reuters.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 11:00 AM ET

OSCE blocked by armed men

For the second day in a row, armed men at a checkpoint Friday blocked observers from the OSCE trying to enter Crimea, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

"We are just trying to go through here as guests of the Ukrainian government under an OSCE mandate," one of the observers told AFP. "We're going to try and negotiate with these people here."

Two sources within the mission said the team of 47 military and civilian observers was returning to the Ukrainian city of Kherson where they had spent the night after being similarly blocked on Thursday.

Nahlah Ayed, a journalist for CBC, posted these photos:

This was the scene yesterday:

UPDATE: 3/7/14 10:00 AM ET

Russian parliament gives its blessings to Crimean parliament's wishes

Russia's parliament said it would support the Crimean parliament's vote to secede from Ukraine and hold a referendum on joining Russia.

"If the people of Crimea decide to join Russia in the referendum, we, as the upper house, will certainly support this decision," said Valentina Matvienko, chairman of Russia's upper house in parliament, at a meeting with Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of Crimea's regional parliament.

UPDATE: 3/7/14 7:00 AM ET

Obama and Putin still far apart on Ukraine

In a statement issued by the Kremlin on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Barack Obama in a telephone call on Thursday that Ukraine's new leaders, who had come to power in an anti-constitutional coup, had imposed "absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions."

"Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law," Putin said, regarding Russian-speaking Crimeans wishes to join Russia.

Obama, according to the White House, "emphasized that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."

He called on Putin to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 3:35 PM ET

Crimean Tatars targeted, says former leader

Earlier today, Al Jazeera translated a report from Ukrainian Espreso TV:

Mustafa Jemilev, former head of the Crimean Tatar Council, has alleged that homes of Tatars, a minority Ukrainian community in Crimea, are being marked with crosses.

In an interview with the Ukrainian Internet television station Espreso TV, Jemilev said the marks are beginning to appear on some buildings and houses.

He said he does not know why this is happening, but that it is taking place "systematically."

According to Kyiv Post, "Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars has urged the residents of the peninsula to boycott the referendum scheduled for March 16."

"The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars does not recognize this referendum. Accordingly, it calls on all residents of Crimea, regardless of their ethnicity, to completely boycott all stages of the preparation for, as well as the voting on the day of the referendum," said the Mejlis Chairman Refat Chubarov.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 3:25 PM ET

EU seeks to coax and cajole Putin into backing down on Crimea

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames offers some insight into the EU's decision to impose political sanctions on Russia:

Although Cameron acknowledged that such sanctions could hurt European countries — not least Britain, which has benefited from Russian investment in London — he said EU states were prepared to pay the price.

The EU leaders had been divided going into the summit. Several nations were wary sanctions would harm mediation hopes or undermine their economic ties with Russia.

However, the decision by pro-Moscow lawmakers in Crimea to hold a referendum on attaching the restive region to Russia galvanized opinion, bringing more hesitant leaders on board.

Britain, France and Germany in particular formed a united front in demanding Russian President Vladimir Putin back down.

The Union is applying a twin-pronged approach, seeking to coax or cajole Putin to back down in Crimea and negotiate a settlement with the new Ukrainian government, while actively working to bolster the authorities in Kyiv.

Read the full piece here.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 3:15 PM ET

Ukraine aid bill passes House

Meanwhile, at the White House...

UPDATE: 3/6/14 2:20 PM ET

A little bit of levity

These are grim times, but let's take a moment to pause and appreciate the humor coming out of diplomatic scrambling:

That last one is via the Guardian's live blog. Ruslana was present at the protests in Kyiv from the beginning, and Dan Peleschuk even caught her singing the Ukrainian national anthem months ago:

UPDATE: 3/6/14 2:05 PM ET

Poland's increasing influence

Senior Correspondent Jason Overdorf reports from Poland, which has played a large role in the Ukraine crisis.

Today, the Polish defense ministry confirmed that the US military "will send 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 service personnel to Poland next week for a training exercise whose scope was expanded in response to the crisis in neighboring Ukraine," according to Reuters.

WARSAW, Poland — After hours of tense overnight negotiations last month in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv between then-President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition leaders demanding his ouster, one of the European officials mediating the talks briefly stole the spotlight.

“If you don't support this [deal] you'll have martial law, the army. You will all be dead,” he told the opposition about an agreement to hold elections in December. Caught on camera by Britain's ITV News, the tough talk was heard around the world.

That exhortation didn’t come from a foreign minister from the traditional European powers Germany or France, who were taking part, but their Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski.

Yanukovych soon fled to Russia before Moscow prompted a new crisis by invading the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, and the implications of the deal are still being debated.

But one matter is certain: Sikorski’s role was important not only for Ukraine, but his own country, which is emerging as an increasingly powerful player in European affairs.

Read more about Poland's rising role.

This is the Polish foreign minister's Twitter account, from when he was in Kyiv negotiating a deal between the Ukrainian government and opposition leaders last month:

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:45 PM ET

In Kyiv, the protesters won't give up

The New York Times' C.J. Chivers reported from Kyiv, the place that started it all:

Vasil V. Puhalskyi, a farmer scarred about the face and ringed by veterans of the lethal street clashes here last month, offered an explanation for why, even after chasing President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power, he and his friends had fortified their barricades anew.

Those who stood up to Ukraine’s ousted authorities trust neither their interim government nor Russia, he said, and so will remain in place at least through elections in late spring. Only then will they decide if they are satisfied enough to leave their fighting positions in the capital’s central square.

“We will stand until the end,” Mr. Puhalskyi said.

You can read Chivers' full report at The Times.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:38 PM ET

Pro-Ukraine protests in D.C.

The view from outside the White House, according to a BBC reporter:

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:35 PM ET

Crimea is part of Ukraine

"Crimea is a part of Ukraine, the sovereign state of Ukraine," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, according to Al Jazeera.

Miles away, in Rome, Kerry echoed the sentiment: "Crimea is part of Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine."

Moments earlier, Obama said, "Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine."

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:15 PM ET

Obama makes statement

President Obama made a short statement about Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, calling the proposed referendum on Crimea's fate a violation of Ukraine's constitution and international law.

He said that the world was "beyond the days where borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders."

Obama also confirmed that he had signed an executive order placing sanctions on those who violated Ukraine's sovereignty.

He also called on Russia to allow international monitors access to Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:03 PM ET

Kerry to speak from Rome

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make a statement from Rome, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Reuters reported on Lavrov's comments earlier:

Speaking in Rome after meeting his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, Lavrov said Washington's order to freeze assets and ban visas to Russians responsible for an incursion into Crimea was unconstructive.

"For now we cannot tell the international community that we have an agreement," Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying after his second meeting with Kerry in two days.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 1:00 PM ET

Ukrainian president says he has stopped Crimean referendum

"So this is not a referendum. This will be a farce, this will be falsity, this will be a crime against the state, which was organized by the military of the Russian Federation," said Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov on Thursday.

In a televised address, Turchynov said, "In accordance with power I am conferred on, I have stopped the decision of the Crimean parliament. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine will initiate dissolution of the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. We will defend the inviolability of the Ukrainian territory."

He cited Article 73 of the Constitution of Ukraine, saying that issues of territories and borders could be discussed only at a nationwide referendum.

Read more at Kyiv Post.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:48 PM ET

INTERPOL receives 'Red Notice' for Yanukovych's arrest

INTERPOL has received a "Red Notice" request from Ukrainian authorities for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's arrest, according to Al Jazeera.

The INTERPOL press release reads:

A request by Ukrainian authorities for an INTERPOL Red Notice, or international wanted persons alert, for the arrest of Victor Yanukovych on charges including abuse of power and murder has been received by INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France.

The request, received on Wednesday 5 March 2014, is being assessed by INTERPOL’s Office of Legal Affairs to determine whether it conforms with the Organization’s constitution and rules.

All INTERPOL member countries have been informed of the ongoing review and all references to the Ukrainian Red Notice request have been blocked from visibility to INTERPOL’s 190 member countries until the legal review has been completed.

No further comment will be made by the INTERPOL General Secretariat until this review is complete and member countries have been informed of INTERPOL’s decision.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:43 PM ET

EU discussions were stormy, says Polish minister

Reuters — European Union leaders' decisions about sanctions on Russia at a meeting on Thursday may not go as far as some people would like, but they were still significant, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Thursday.

"The discussions were stormy," Tusk told a news conference in Brussels broadcast on Polish television. "Maybe not everybody will be satisfied, but we achieved more than could have been expected just a few hours ago."

He also said that European leaders agreed to suspend preparations until further notice for a Group of Eight meeting in the Russian city of Sochi.

The full statement from the EU on Ukraine can be found here [h/t BBC News].

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:38 PM ET

Merkel calls Crimea referendum 'illegal'

Reuters — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a referendum announced by Crimea's parliament on Thursday on joining the Russian Federation was "illegal and incompatible with Ukraine's constitution."

Speaking after an emergency meeting of European leaders in Brussels, Merkel said: "we condemn the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty with regard to Crimea and we consider its territorial integrity to be essential."

EU leaders urged Russia to immediately withdraw troops from Crimea and said the EU had suspended bilateral talks on visas with Moscow.

Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum on the decision in 10 days' time in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:35 PM ET

Hollande threatens further measures against Russia

Reuters — The European Union is ready to put in place further sanctions against Russia if it de-stabilizes Ukraine further, French President Francois Hollande said after a European crisis meeting on the stand-off on Wednesday.

"If Russia ... took measures which de-stabilized Ukraine, called into question its territorial integrity, there would be new measures concerning ties between the EU and Russia in a number of economic sectors," Hollande told a news briefing.

EU officials said earlier that the 28-member bloc had decided to suspend bilateral talks on visas with Russia and suspend preparations for a G8 meeting. Other measures including freezes on individuals' assets and travel bans were also possible, they said.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:30 PM ET

EU leaders agree on political sanctions

The EU leaders have agreed to (according to Cameron):

- to suspend negotiations on a more liberal visa regime for Russians

- to stop work on a comprehensive new agreement on relations between Russia and the EU

- and to pull out of all preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi in June

On the threat of economic sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "I hope it won't come to that but we made it very clear here today that we are ready to go ahead with this if it became necessary," according to the BBC.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:25 PM ET

EU threatens further sanctions on Russia

Via BBC News:

"EU to suspend talks on visa deal and threatens further sanctions if Russia does engage in talks on Ukraine crisis."

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke after the meeting of EU leaders on Ukraine.

He said:

This meeting of European leaders takes place at a dangerous moment.

The territorial integrity of an independent nation has been violated.

The sovereignty of one of the EU’s neighbors has been blatantly swept aside.

The aspirations of the Ukrainian people — to live in a country free from corruption and free to chart its own future — are being crushed.

And Russia has acted in flagrant breach of international law.

This matters to people in Britain because we depend on a world where countries obey the rules.

It matters because this is happening in our own neighborhood — on the European continent where in the last 70 years we have worked so hard to keep the peace.

And it matters because we know from our history that turning a blind eye when nations are trampled over and their independence trashed stores up far greater problems in the long run.

So we must stand up to aggression, uphold international law and support people who want a free, European future.

Read the full statement from Number 10.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 12:15 PM ET

Kyiv questions legality of Crimean secession vote

When Crimea's lawmakers voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk writes:

They justified the vote by claiming the “anti-constitutional coup” by “nationalist forces” in Kyiv that resulted in President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster last month poses a threat to human rights and freedom of expression in the heavily pro-Russian region.

A referendum previously scheduled for March 30 will instead take place on March 16, when Crimeans will be asked whether they prefer to stay in Ukraine or “reunify” Russia, a nod to the region’s long history under Moscow before being transferred to Ukraine in 1954.

“This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kyiv,” Sergei Shuvainikov, a Crimean parliamentarian, told the Associated Press Thursday.

“We will decide our future ourselves.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk dismissed the vote as illegitimate. But the Kyiv authorities have so far been reluctant to deploy Ukraine's outmanned and outgunned military forces against the Russian troops currently occupying Crimea.

Read more of Dan's report here.

The Guardian's live blog paraphrased Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turhynov's reaction to the Crimean vote: "Crimean authorities are illegitimate, working under the barrel of a gun."

Kyiv's economy minister said, "My position is that this referendum is unconstitutional."

Yevhen Perebyinis, a spokesman for Kyiv's foreign ministry said, "Everything that's happening now, both the resolution of the Crimean Supreme Council and claims of the Federation Council and State Duma of Russia specifically indicate that these were coordinated actions."

UPDATE: 3/6/14 11:57 AM ET

US sending F-16s to Poland for training exercise

Reuters — The US military is sending 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland for a training exercise, Polish media reported on Thursday.

The jets will arrive at the Lask base, in central Poland, on Monday, the online versions of the Gazeta Wyborczaand Rzeczpospolita newspapers reported. A Polish defense ministry spokesman said he could not confirm the reports.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday it would intensify defense training with Poland in the light of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 11:55 AM ET

NATO: Greatest threat since the Cold War

Reuters — NATO urged Russia on Thursday to call back to bases its forces on the Ukrainian Crimea peninsula, saying it stood by Ukraine's territorial integrity in the face of the greatest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.

"Ukraine is a valued and long-standing partner for NATO. In these difficult moments NATO stands by Ukraine, NATO stands by Ukraine's sovereignty, integrity and by the fundamental principles of international law," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

The crisis in Ukraine escalated on Thursday after the parliament in Crimea, which has effectively been seized by Russian forces, voted to join Russia.

"This crisis is not just about Ukraine, this crisis has serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole. We clearly face the gravest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War," Rasmussen said.

"Above all we call on Russia to step up its international commitments and halt the military escalation in Crimea. We call on Russia to withdraw its forces to their bases and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine," he said.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 11:45 AM ET

Military observers turned back from Crimea

Reuters — Dozens of military observers invited by Ukraine to monitor the situation in Russian-occupied Crimea had to turn back on Thursday after failing to get past roadblocks, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

The mission of 43 unarmed observers from 23 OSCE countries was now heading back to the Ukrainian town of Kherson, halfway between Odessa and the Crimean peninsula, to decide how to proceed, the Vienna-based security organization and democracy watchdog said.

"They tried two checkpoints, they didn't get through ... Nobody attacked them, they were just not allowed to go through," an OSCE spokeswoman said.

The mission had aimed to defuse a tense military standoff. Forces loyal to Moscow bloodlessly seized Crimea after Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych was ousted as Ukrainian president last month, and are surrounding military compounds of the Ukrainian army and navy.

The Guardian's Shaun Walker is there:

BuzzFeed's Max Seddon tweeted this image:

And Kyiv Post's Christopher Miller saw this outside Crimea's parliament building:

UPDATE: 3/6/14 11:30 AM ET

American destroyer heads to Black Sea for 'routine' drills

Agence France-Presse — A US guided-missile destroyer is en route to the Black Sea but naval officials said Thursday it was a "routine" deployment that was planned before the crisis unfolded in Ukraine.

The USS Truxtun departed the Greek port of Souda Bay Thursday to carry out joint training with Romanian and Bulgarian forces, the US Navy said in a statement.

"While in the Black Sea, the ship will conduct a port visit and routine, previously planned exercises with allies and partners in the region," it said.

The mission was "scheduled well in advance of her departure from the United States," it said.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 11:20 AM ET

Congress prepares to act on Ukraine

The Associated Press reported:

The House of Representatives was poised Thursday to pass the first aid bill for Ukraine's new, pro-Western government, while both chambers of Congress looked to advance legislation imposing hard-hitting sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

The House was scheduled to vote in the afternoon on a bill providing loan guarantees to the government in Kyiv that came to power last month after protesters ousted the country's pro-Russian leader. The Obama administration has promised $1 billion in such financial support.

Read more at the AP.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 10:30 AM ET

EU wants to offer Ukrainian exporters greater access to its market

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames reported: 

As well as $15 billion in economic assistance, the support package for Ukraine that European Union leaders are expected to approve at their summit Thursday will also grant Ukrainian exporters greater access to EU's market.

The move was singled out by Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as a significant boost for his country's stricken economy after he met with the EU leaders in Brussels. Under the plan, the 28 EU countries will lower tariffs on a range of Ukrainian goods.

When fully in place, the EU says that could save Ukrainian companies almost $700 million a year. The EU's head office said it hopes the trade opening proposal can be in force by June, following approval by the European Parliament and all 28 EU governments.

Once adopted, trade barriers will be phased out in line with a free trade agreement the EU had been scheduled to sign with Ukraine in November, before then President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of the deal under Russian pressure.

However, unlike with that agreement, the EU is not asking the Ukraine to match its market-opening moves. The tariff cuts will be reviewed at the end of the year, unless they are replaced by the wider trade deal which Yatsenyuk said he is ready to sign.

EU nations however have said they would prefer to wait until after Ukraine holds elections scheduled for May.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 9:51 AM ET

Lavrov said there is no agreement for now, Interfax news agency reported 

Reuters — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday there was still no agreement between Moscow and Washington over the crisis in Ukraine where the regional parliament of Crimea voted to become part of Russia.

Speaking in Rome after meeting his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, Lavrov said Washington's order to freeze assets and ban visas to Russians responsible for an incursion into Crimea was unconstructive.

"For now we cannot tell the international community that we have an agreement," Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying after his second meeting with Kerry in two days.

Lavrov said talk of blacklisting some Russians from entering the United States was complicating talks: "He (Kerry) assured me there are no such lists for now. There is only the order but that doesn't change facts, this is still a threat."

The West has pushed Moscow to agree to international mediation to resolve the crisis in Ukraine but Lavrov said he would now report to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the proposal before any decisions were made.

"We want to better clarify what our partners mean when they propose the creation of various international mechanisms," he was also quoted as saying.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 9:27 AM ET

Moscow stocks fall

Reuters — Moscow stocks fell on Thursday for the second day this week after Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia and the United States ordered an asset freeze and visa bans against those involved in Russia's military intervention in the Ukrainian region.

At 1338 GMT (8:35 ET), the dollar-denominated RTS index was down 2.8 percent to 1,148 points, deepening further losses seen after the Crimean parliament's unanimous vote to annex the region to Russia. ...

Moody's ratings agency said on Thursday that Russia's actions in Ukraine were negative for Russia's sovereign creditworthiness. Moody's and the Fitch ratings agency said the crisis would weigh on Russia's economy.

"This negative sentiment, which is likely to translate into increasing net private sector capital outflows that have already been a structural impediment to Russia's economic development, will negatively affect Russia's GDP growth," Moody's said in a statement. "The threat of potential political and economic sanctions from the West could further undermine investor sentiment and affect the credit worthiness of Russian borrowers."

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Jon Boyle)

UPDATE: 3/6/14 9:17 AM ET

We are ready to protect our country, says Ukraine Prime Minister Yatsenyuk

Reuters — Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said on Thursday that a decree making Crimea part of Russia was an illegitimate move and Crimea was and will remain an integral part of the country.

"This is an illegitimate decision and this so-called referendum has no legal grounds at all. That's the reason why we urge the Russian government not to support those who support separatism in the Ukraine," Yatsenyuk told a news conference in Brussels following talks with EU leaders.

"Crimea is was and will be an integral part of Ukraine."

He also urged Russia on Thursday to withdraw its military from Crimea and said the current crisis must be resolved only through peaceful means.

The crisis in Ukraine escalated on Thursday after the parliament in Crimea, which has effectively been seized by Russian forces, voted to join Russia.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis, Jan Strupczewski and Martin Santa; Editing by Alison Williams)

UPDATE: 3/6/14 8:34 AM ET

Kerry meets Russia's Lavrov in Rome over Ukraine

Reuters — US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a Rome conference on Libya to continue discussions on Ukraine, a senior US official said on Thursday.

It is the second meeting in as many days between Kerry and Lavrov, who met in Paris on Wednesday to talks about the crisis over the crisis in Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

Earlier, Kerry also met his counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy and France to discuss the situation in Ukraine and to inform them of US plans to sanction individuals and officials over events in Crimea.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Alison Williams)

UPDATE: 3/6/14 8:14 AM ET

Obama orders asset freeze, visa bans against those involved in Russian move on Ukraine

Reuters — President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the freezing of US assets and a ban on travel into the United States of those involved in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Obama signed an executive order aimed at punishing those Russians and Ukrainians responsible for a Russian incursion into the Crimea region of southern Ukraine, a crisis that has raised old-style Cold War tensions.

The order, the White House said in a statement, is "a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate."

In addition, the State Department is putting in place visa restrictions on a number of officials and individuals, reflecting a policy decision to deny visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Susan Heavey)

UPDATE: 3/6/14 8:00 AM ET

A referendum with two options

As BBC News reports:

"In the referendum on 16 March, Crimean voters are to be offered two options: Are you in favour of reuniting Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation? Are you in favour of restoring the constitution of the Republic of Crimea of 1992 and retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?"

Crimea's parliament unanimously approved joining Russia, and the people are expected to vote on it March 16.

Russia has also been made aware of the request, and Russian news agencies reported that Putin discussed it at his security council meeting.

The government in Kyiv, in the meantime, called Crimean parliament's move unconstitutional.

An envoy for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Tim Guildimann, told a news conference:

"The situation might seem quiet, almost normal, if you go to the streets. However it's extremely tense and I would consider it a miracle that bloodshed [has been] avoided so far given the political and even military circumstances on the ground."

UPDATE: 3/6/14 7:40 AM ET

'Anything can happen. It's a very dangerous situation.'

This was the mood in Crimea before the announcement of the referendum:

Agence France-Presse — A week into Moscow's "occupation," a wary stalemate has settled over Crimea but nerves are raw as heavily armed Russian forces face off with Ukrainian troops in the Black Sea peninsula.

So far, Russia's de facto takeover of Crimea has been surprisingly peaceful, with only a few warning shots fired into the air.

But tensions remain high and residents worry that with so many fingers on triggers, it may not take much to set off real violence.

"For now, life is like normal — people are working, going to school, shopping," said Lydia Kuzminichna, a 72-year-old running errands in the regional capital Simferopol.

"But of course we are worried, anything can happen. It's a very dangerous situation."

Across the rugged peninsula, armed men in military uniforms and wielding assault rifles have surrounded Ukrainian military installations. Ukrainian authorities say they number in the thousands.

Moscow denies the men are Russian troops and the soldiers themselves are tight-lipped. But with their matching uniforms, sophisticated equipment and professional bearing, there is little doubt they are Russian troops and not rag-tag militia.

Inside the bases, nervous Ukrainian soldiers are standing their ground, refusing to surrender or hand over their weapons, but in most cases clearly not ready to hold off a full-out assault.

"We're just not prepared to face up to the Russian special forces," a captain inside the besieged Belbek base near Sevastopol, Andrei Matchenko, told AFP this week. "This isn't what we are trained or equipped for."

UPDATE: 3/6/14 7:20 AM ET

UN Security Council to meet

Agence France-Presse — The UN Security Council will hold new closed-door talks Thursday on the Ukraine crisis, diplomats said.

Envoys from 15 member countries are due to meet at 2:30 pm (1930 GMT) for the council's fourth consultations on the subject since Friday.

During an acrimonious round of emergency talks Monday, Russia told other council members that Ukraine's deposed president Viktor Yanukovych had asked Moscow to dispatch troops to re-establish law and order in his country.

As a permanent member of the council, Russia holds veto power and can thus block the body's draft resolutions.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 7:00 AM ET

Crimean parliament wants to secede from Ukraine, join Russia

From the BBC:

The Crimean parliament votes to hold a referendum on 16 March in which voters will be asked on whether the region should join the Russian Federation.

Kyiv has called the Crimean parliament's move unconstitutional.

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk noted that the parliament was meant to hold a referendum, originally set for the date May 25. It was then moved up to March 30.

UPDATE: 3/6/14 6:40 AM ET

Russia trying to 'rewrite the borders of Europe after World War II'

From Senior Correspondent Paul Ames:

European Union leaders arrived for their emergency summit on Ukraine struggling to find unity in their response to Russia's takeover of Crimea.

Leaders going into the talks suggested the bloc would discuss sanctions against the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but hold off on applying them in the hope that a negotiated settlement can still be found — despite the latest escalation caused by plans for Crimea to hold referendum on joining Russia.

"We will also talk about different types and forms of sanctions, whether they will enter into force or not will be decided based on how far diplomatic efforts proceed," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters ahead of the summit.

French President Francois Hollande said "there will be the strongest possible pressure on Russia to begin lowering the tension." That he added would include "eventual recourse to sanctions."

Taking a tougher line, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite expressed frustration at the lack of unity among the 28 EU nations.

She appealed for them to come together to confront a Russia that has become a "danger" not only to Ukraine but also neighboring Moldova and, potentially to other European states.

"It is an open and brutal aggression," she said. "Russia today is trying to rewrite the borders of Europe after World War II."

Grybauskaite was the most outspoken leader arriving at the talks in Brussels, but even she suggested it may be too early to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Possible sanctions that could be brandished as threats should Moscow not agree to de-escalate include suspending ongoing talks on easing visa requirements for Russians seeking to travel to the West; a boycott of a June summit of the G8 that Putin is due to host in Sochi; an arms embargo; travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials.

However, several EU nations are wary of punitive measures for fear of damaging mediation hopes and hurting their own extensive economic interests — not least because the EU gets around a quarter of its energy from Russian oil and gas imports.

The leaders were expected to approve a $15 billion aid package for Ukraine that was proposed by EU headquarters Wednesday. That includes previsions to free up $1.4 billion immediately to keep the new government in Kyiv afloat.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 5:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 4:40 PM ET

Europe has left the Cold War behind, but has the Cold War left Europe?

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames looks at how the crisis in Ukraine is forcing the West to rethink its defense priorities and its ties to Russia:

Britain's defense budget has shrunk by an average of 1.38 percent every year since 2009. In France, the drop is 3.8 percent and in Spain and Italy, it's more than 5 percent a year.

Meanwhile, Russia's defense expenditure has doubled since 2007 and is scheduled to grow by another 44 percent over the next three years.

Russia devotes 4.4 percent of its gross domestic product to defense. Only three European allies — Estonia, Greece, Britain — meet NATO's 2 percent target.

Those figures show a shift in the European mentality since the Cold War.

Now events in Ukraine look set to force a reevaluation of the alliance’s stance.

Read more here.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 4:30 PM ET

The legality of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil

From GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka:

Much has been made in the media about the presence of thousands of Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine's Crimea — 6,000, an unnamed US administration official said on March 3. The same day, Ukraine's United Nations mission said it was 16,000 troops.

President Vladimir Putin said March 4 that there weren't any Russian troops in Crimea at all: the heavily armed and well trained men riding trucks with Russian license plates and known in Crimea as "polite people in green" are actually local self-defense forces. And anyway, Putin said, Viktor Yanukovych, the democratically elected president of Ukraine who was unlawfully removed from power, had asked Russia for assistance.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russia’s actions were unacceptable and demanded all troop removal.

The presence of the Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine is legal, conceded Elena Pertsova, a lawyer for the rights group "Pavlenko and Poberzhnyuk." But their movement outside the facilities "assigned to Russian armed forces, combined with the use of heavy machinery, constitute a flagrant violation of the Black Sea agreements."

The Russians are in violation of articles 3 and 6 of the agreement on "Friendship, cooperation and partnership between Ukraine and Russia," said Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Eugene Perebiynis. These articles pertain to the obligations of the two sides to "develop relationships based on mutual respect, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders and peaceful settlement of disputes, refraining from the use of force or threats of use of force, including economic pressure, noninterference in internal affairs, and refraining from activities directed against the other party in the agreement." Russia is also breaking the May 28, 1998 agreement about the increase of the number of military vehicles and personnel.

The uproar over the troops is irrelevant, at least if international agreements are to be honored, according to Russian experts. Russia is legally allowed to have troops in Crimea. "The devil is in the details," wrote Oleg Volodin, editor in chief of, pointing to the May 28, 1997 Agreement between the Russian Federation and Ukraine regarding the partition of the Black Sea fleet.

On the bottom of page 6, the document clearly states that the overall navy personnel presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the territory of Ukraine (not just in Crimea) is "25,000 people, including 1,987 people in marine infantry and marine aviation based on the ground." Furthermore, the Russian Black Sea Fleet also has the right to "defend its facilities and inhibit manifestations of extremism" the could threaten the lives or health of civilians, Volodin wrote. And if Ukraine decides to break with this agreement, the recognition of Sevastopol and Crimea as Ukrainian becomes void.

The Black Sea Fleet agreements stretch back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia’s south fleet found itself based in a new independent country. They have been numerous and have caused many disputes. The two sides never ironed out the points of contention, which is the root cause of the legal tangling today. It remains to be seen whether Russia and Ukraine can ratify anything under the present circumstances.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 4:00 PM ET

Kerry's optimistic remarks

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, said, "All parties agreed today that it is important to resolve these issues through dialogue."

Earlier, Kerry and other European foreign ministers met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and their Ukrainian counterpart separately.

"Russia made a choice and we have clearly stated that we believe it is the wrong choice," Kerry said. He will meet with Lavrov again in Rome on Thursday.

"Ukraine's territorial integrity must be restored and must be respected," Kerry said.

In a strangely optimistic mood, Kerry said, "I'd rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday."

When asked about the Ukrainian foreign minister not meeting with Lavrov, Kerry said he had zero expectation of that meeting happening, but felt it was inappropriate to discuss Ukraine without Andriy Deshchytsia to represent the country's views.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 2:30 PM ET

Denials and clarifications

There was speculation earlier that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov might meet with his Ukrainian counterpart as both were seen entering the French foreign ministry.

It appears, however, that Lavrov left without meeting Andriy Deshchytsia, according to Reuters which cited Western diplomats.

And a US official also apparently denied Lavrov's earlier claim that the United States and Russia had agreed on the Feb. 21 deal forming the basis of a way forward in Ukraine, according to the Guardian.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 2:20 PM ET

Putin talked with Merkel about Ukraine

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed possible international efforts to help improve the situation in Ukraine in a phone call, the Kremlin said in a statement on Wednesday.

The West has threatened sanctions against Russia which effectively occupied Crimea after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. Moscow accused the Western powers of supporting a "coup" to topple him and did not recognize the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities.

GlobalPost's Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk weighed in on how observers feel about Putin's rhetoric spinning further out of control.

Meanwhile, Russia's envoy to NATO accused the alliance of applying double standards and "Cold War" stereotypes to Russia after NATO announced a review of all cooperation with Moscow over tensions in Ukraine.

"This meeting proved that NATO still has a double standard policy. And Cold War stereotypes are still applied towards Russia," Alexander Grushko told reporters after a meeting of NATO and Russian officials to discussUkraine on Wednesday.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 1:50 PM ET

NATO wants to review its cooperation with Russia

Reuters — NATO announced a full review of its cooperation with Russia on Wednesday to try to pressure Moscow into backing down on Ukraine and said it would suspend planning for a joint mission linked to Syrian chemical weapons.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said alliance officials would no longer hold staff-level meetings with their Russian counterparts, while stepping up engagement with Ukraine's civilian and military leadership.

"We have also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now," Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels.

NATO has been in talks with Russia on a possible joint mission to protect a U.S. ship that will destroy Syria's deadliest chemical weapons.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 1:42 PM ET

Lavrov and Kerry agree on Feb. 21 deal

Reuters — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and Western powers agreed that the Ukrainian government and opposition need to stick to the EU-brokered peace deal after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.

Speaking to media after talks with Kerry in Paris, Lavrov said the two sides agreed to join efforts to help Ukraine to reach the agreement signed in Kiev on February 21.

Since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia has accused Ukraine's new leaders of violating the deal.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 1:40 PM ET

The envoy and the militia

Al Jazeera's Nick Schifrin reported from Crimea about the events that transpired earlier regarding the UN envoy:

United Nations envoy Robert Serry was briefly held against his will at a café in the Crimean city of Simferopol. The café door was blocked by pro-Russia men in military uniform. At some point, Serry agreed to leave Crimea according to the ITV reporter he was with at the café.

About 40 pro-Russia demonstrators arrived, chanting "Russia" and "Putin." Clearly coordinated with the men in uniform, they created a corridor through which Serry was brought into a waiting car. At least one of the militia member was in the car.

Read the full account at Al Jazeera America.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 12:55 PM ET

UN envoy on his way to the airport

The meeting between Secretary Kerry and Russia's Lavrov is ongoing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at 12:47 p.m. ET (via Al Jazeera).

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted this amazing photo:

UPDATE: 3/5/14 12:20 PM ET

UN envoy on his way to the airport

UPDATE: 3/5/14 12:15 PM ET

Serry is safe, but was threatened

Reuters — UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on Wednesday denied reports that UN representative in Ukraine Robert Serry was seized by armed men in Crimea, adding that Serry had been threatened but was now safe.

"He was not kidnapped but he was seriously threatened," Eliasson told reporters in New York by telephone from Kyiv, adding that "this action should be seriously condemned."

Eliasson said a group of unidentified men, some of them armed, surrounded Serry and said he should leave Crimea. They made it impossible for Serry leave by car, forcing him to leave the situation on foot. Eliasson said Serry was currently safe.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 12:12 PM ET

More on Robert Serry being blocked

More on the detained UN envoy who is with an ITV News crew:

UPDATE: 3/5/14 12:00 PM ET

Reports of UN envoy being detained

Reuters — Armed men seized Robert Serry, a special representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Ukraine's Crimea region on Wednesday, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said.

Russian forces have taken control of Crimea in southern Ukraine. Serry was held in the region's main city, Simferopol, a ministry spokeswoman said.

And this from ITV News' Europe Editor:

UPDATE: 3/5/14 11:10 AM ET

Pro-Russia protesters try to storm Donetsk building

Reuters — A crowd of pro-Russian activists recaptured the regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Wednesday, hours after they were ejected by police.

The crowd of about 200 protesters threw open the front doors and re-entered the building despite a heavy police presence after a day-long demonstration following their ejection from a building they had held since Monday.

Earlier on Wednesday Ukraine flew its flag atop the building, replacing a Russian flag that had flown there since Saturday. Donetsk has seen the most persistent of a wave of pro-Russian demonstrations that broke out in southern and eastern cities on Saturday as President Vladimir Putin was declaring Russia's right to invade.

Kyiv says the protests have been arranged by Moscow to justify military intervention.

This was from two days ago, when the building was seized by pro-Russian protesters. It was then retaken by pro-Ukrainian crowds yesterday.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 10:20 AM ET

Pro-Russia protesters try to storm Donetsk building

Reuters — A crowd of about 150 pro-Moscow demonstrators tried to re-enter a regional administration building they had occupied in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk on Wednesday, after they were ejected from it in the morning.

Several people could be seen through a window on the second floor, apparently having penetrated into the building, which was heavily guarded by police.

The protesters had occupied the building since Monday, and a Russian flag had flown above it since Saturday until it was taken down on Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 9:35 AM ET

Foreign ministers discuss Ukraine

Reuters — French President Francois Hollande is holding a meeting of the US, Russian, British, French and German foreign ministers to discuss the Ukraine crisis, a presidential source told reporters at the Elysee presidential palace.

The source said the meeting had already begun after the ministers, John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov, William Hague, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared together at the palace.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 7:20 AM ET

A $15 billion rescue from the EU

Reuters — The European Union is ready to provide 11 billion euros ($15 billion) of financial support to Ukraine over the next couple of years via a series of loans and grants, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.

The assistance would be delivered in coordination with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, and is in part contingent on Ukraine signing a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

"The package combined could bring an overall support of at least 11 billion euros over the next couple of years, from the EU budget and EU-based international financial institutions," Barroso told a news conference.

The announcement comes a day after the United States offered $1 billion in loan guarantees and said it would send technical experts to Ukraine to advise its central bank and finance ministry on how to tackle economic difficulties.

Ukraine is on the verge of bankruptcy because of economic mismanagement, high energy costs and currency turmoil fueled by a conflict with Russia since the ouster of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

The West has stepped up efforts in recent days to persuade Moscow to pull its forces from the Ukrainian Crimea peninsula, which they seized after the fall of Yanukovych, and avert the risk of war.

The EU also plans to bring forward trade benefits that Ukraine would have received had it signed an association agreement with the EU last year, and will work on providing energy to Ukraine via "reverse flows" of gas from the EU.

Kyiv's new rulers have said they need $35 billion over the next two years. But its shorter-term requirements are much less and are estimated to be around $4 billion, according to some EU officials.

UPDATE: 3/5/14 6:00 AM ET

Russia says it has no control over 'self-defense' forces

Reuters — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow cannot order pro-Russian armed groups in Ukraine's Crimea region to return to their bases because they are "self-defense" forces, not Russian soldiers.

Western states are discussing a potential resolution to the crisis ignited by Russian intervention in Crimea under which Russia would pull its forces back to their bases on the Black Sea peninsula and allow in international monitors.

But asked if Moscow would order pro-Russian forces wearing fatigues without identification markings back to base, Lavrov told a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo in Madrid it could not do so.

"If you mean the self-defense units created by residents of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us," he told the news conference shown live on Russian state television.

"As for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites," Lavrov said, referring to a Russian naval unit based in Crimea. "Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites.

"We will do everything to prevent bloodshed."

He also said it was up to Crimean and Ukrainian authorities to decide whether to grant international monitors access.

The view from journalists talking to said "self-defense" troops is quite different:

UPDATE: 3/5/14 4:10 AM ET

Reports of missile defense battalion seizure

Reuters — Russian forces seized two Ukrainian missile defense battalions in the Crimea region on Wednesday, Interfax news agency quoted a military source as saying.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry was unable immediately to confirm on the report, which quoted the source saying: "We now expect the arrival of Russian missile specialists and pro-Russian activists who will have to persuade the Ukrainian military personnel to carry out joint combat duties."

UPDATE: 3/4/14 5:00 PM ET

Signing off

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UPDATE: 3/4/14 3:45 PM ET

A turning tide?

Reuters — More than 1,000 demonstrators with Ukrainian flags took to the streets of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Tuesday, for the first time outnumbering pro-Moscow youths who have seized its government building, which flies the Russian flag.

President Vladimir Putin's declaration on Saturday that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine was accompanied by pro-Russian demonstrations across Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking south and east.

But in the four days since, the tide of opinion in eastern cities appears to be turning back towards Kyiv.

Bearing placards with slogans such as: "I am Russian. I don't need protection," the protesters marched near the occupied regional government building, staying far enough away to avoid clashing with the pro-Russian youths still inside.

"My parents are from Russia. I was born in Ukraine, but I am Russian. My children and grandchildren were born here. We are for Ukraine," said Natalia Sytnik, who turned out to protest against the prospect of a Russian invasion.

"We did not ask for help. I don't want him, Putin, to bring tanks here. I don't want them to shoot at my kids. Let him hear us: 'Do not defend me from anyone. No one is attacking me'."

The slogans actually echo what Ukraine's envoy to the UN, Yuriy Sergeyev, said during a Security Council meeting on Monday.

Think Progress also talked to some Ukrainian citizens in different parts of the country.

One woman, identified as Olga, said her family in Sevastopol (a city in Crimea) initially supported the Russian forces entering Crimea, but "it’s looking now like its not just protection … It’s a full-blown invasion. As time goes on, that’s becoming more and more apparent."

UPDATE: 3/4/14 3:15 PM ET

Tymoshenko speaks

Recently released from prison (where she was serving a sentence in connection with corruption charges her supporters and the West alleged were politically motivated), former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, it seems, has been doing the press rounds.

She spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday, telling her, "I am asking all the world, personally every world leader, to use all the possibilities in order to avoid Ukraine losing Crimea."

"Ukraine is left on its own and is given to Russia," Tymoshenko told Amanpour, "then the world will change."

"Not only politics and life in Ukraine will change — the politics and life will change practically everywhere in the world."

On Tuesday, Tymoshenko spoke to Newsweek. She was asked if she had spoken to the Russian president since her release.

Her reply: "When I was prime minister, Vladimir Putin and I always had purely pragmatic relations. We both knew that we could come to agreement on the basis of our countries' national interests.... We never played games. So far, we have not been in touch."

Find the rest of the interview on Newsweek.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 2:45 PM ET

What does the current crisis mean for Russia and the United States' relationship?

GlobalPost's Ambika Kandasamy talked to Thomas Nichols, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College, about the Ukraine crisis' implications for relations between the United States and Russia.

"I think Vladimir Putin wanted to make a point, and I think he’s made it. Whether he’ll be satisfied with making that point, I don’t know. [The point Putin’s trying to make is] that Russia is deciding what post-Cold War sovereignty looks like in that region and not anybody else — that Russia’s the arbiter of borders and independence in the former Soviet state. And also to recover some of his wounded pride after the unceremonious way that [ousted Ukrainian president] Yanukovych was run out of town."

Read the full Q&A here.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 2:40 PM ET

US official says ICBM test was planned

More from Reuters on the ICBM test:

The launch site, Kapustin Yar, is near the Volga River about 450 km (280 miles) east of the Ukrainian border. Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in a post-Soviet security grouping, is further to the east.

Russia and the United States signed the latest of a series of treaties restricting the numbers of ICBMs in 2010, but Moscow has indicated it will agree further cuts in the near future and is taking steps to upgrade its nuclear arsenal.

President Vladimir Putin has emphasized that Russia must maintain a strong nuclear deterrent, in part because of an anti-missile shield the United States is building in Europe which Moscow says could undermine its security.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 2:30 PM ET

Russia test-fires ICBM: Report

From the Guardian's live blog:

"Reuters picks up a report by state-run RIA quoting a Russian defense ministry spokesman as saying that Russia successfully test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)."

Reuters report went:

The Strategic Rocket Forces launched an RS-12M Topol missile from the southerly Astrakhan region near the Caspian Sea and the dummy warhead hit its target at a proving ground in Kazakhstan, the state-run news agency RIA cited Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Yegorov as saying.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 2:15 PM ET

Russia says it will retaliate if sanctions are imposed

Reuters — Russia said on Tuesday that it would retaliate if the United States imposed sanctions overMoscow's actions in Ukraine.

"We will have to respond," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. "As always in such situations, provoked by rash and irresponsible actions by Washington, we stress: this is not our choice."

"We have frequently explained to the Americans ... why unilateral sanctions do not fit the standards of civilized relations between states," Lukashevich said.

Lukashevich did not describe any measures Moscow might impose in retaliation but said the Russian response would not necessarily mirror the U.S. sanctions.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 1:25 PM ET

The non-Russian Russian troops in Crimea

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia had no troops in Crimea, a statement which when relayed to Kerry was greeted with incredulity.

Christopher Miller is an editor at Kyiv Post and went to Belbek air base:

Journalists on the ground and others who have seen pictures of the troops noted they were riding in vehicles with Russian license plates.

There are some self-defense troops coordinating with the Russian troops, as these journalists noted:

UPDATE: 3/4/14 1:10 PM ET

Communications take a hit in Ukraine

Reuters — Ukraine's telecommunications system has come under attack, with equipment installed in Russian-controlled Crimea used to interfere with the mobile phones of members of parliament, the head ofUkraine's SBU security service said on Tuesday.

Some Internet and telephone services were severed after Russian forces seized control of airfields and key installations in Ukraine's Crimea region on Friday, but now lawmakers were being targeted, Valentyn Nalivaichenko told a news briefing.

"I confirm that an...attack is under way on mobile phones of members of Ukrainian parliament for the second day in row," the security chief told a news briefing.

"At the entrance to (telecoms firm) Ukrtelecom in Crimea, illegally and in violation of all commercial contracts, was installed equipment that blocks my phone as well as the phones of other deputies, regardless of their political affiliation," he said.

Ukrtelecom has already said armed men raided its facilities in Crimea on Friday and tampered with fiber optic cables, causing outages of local telephone and Internet systems on the continent.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 1:00 PM ET

Many of Russia's pipelines run through Ukraine

Moscow is a key supplier of gas to the European Union, making up about a third of the region's imports. Half of those flow through pipes in Ukraine.

Here are 6 other reasons Russia wants Ukraine all to itself.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 12:30 PM ET

OSCE observers to travel to Crimea 

Reuters — Ukraine said on Tuesday that observers from a pan-European security body would travel at its invitation to the Crimea region, where Russian forces have taken control, in an attempt to defuse a military standoff.

"An OSCE mission has arrived in Kiev which will go to the Crimean peninsula to monitor the situation," Ukraine's national security chief, Andriy Paruby, told a news conference in Kyiv.

He said the security situation on the Black Sea peninsula was "complicated but stable".

Several members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were set to send up a maximum of two observers each on the mission, diplomatic sources at OSCE headquarters in Vienna said.

The United States has agreed to take part, US envoy Daniel Baer said.

"The invitation is for a week-long visit initially. The United States will dispatch two monitors per the request of the Ukrainian government," he told Reuters.

He said around 15 observers had been volunteered so far and more responses were still coming in from OSCE members.

Earlier, we posted a video of Russians firing warning shots at Ukrainian soldiers. The Washington Post's William Booth was at Belbek air base and gives a detailed account of what happened:


UPDATE: 3/4/14 12:20 PM ET

Obama says Russia's actions don't show strength

Reuters — US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression in Ukraine is not a sign of Russian strength but rather a reflection of the deep concern Russia's neighbors have about Moscow's meddling.

In remarks to reporters, Obama ridiculed Putin's reason for sending the Russian military into the Crimea region of southern Ukraine. Putin said the move was aimed at protecting Russian nationals but Obama calls the incursion a violation of international law.

"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations," Obama said. "But I don't think that's fooling anybody."

Obama said he held a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday morning, his second such session in two days about Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 12:10 PM ET

Kerry in short

Kerry's remarks from Kyiv are now over. Here are some highlights:

- Kerry started off with a poetic description of his trip to Independence Square in Kyiv, seeing the barricades, the barbed wire, the bullet holes.

"These brave Ukrainians took to the streets to stand against tyranny and demand democracy, but instead they were met with snipers and picked off one after another."

- Kerry accused the Russian government of hiding behind intimidation, falsehoods and provocation.

- On Yanukovych, Kerry had this to say:

- Kerry told Russia to take its concerns to the Ukrainian government, the UN and the OSCE.

- If Russia didn't de-escalate, Kerry warned, the US and its partners would move forward with plans to isolate Russia diplomatically, politically and economically.

- Kerry seemed stunned as a reporter related Putin's earlier denial that Russian troops were in Crimea.

"Did he really deny that there were troops in Crimea?"

- Kerry said the United States was committed to Ukraine, and didn't think it was "appropriate" for any country to go to Ukraine and talk about the people's sacrifice only to walk away.

- Kerry reiterated steps the United States has already taken to isolate Russia including canceling G8 summit preparations, suspending military cooperation and economic dialogue.

This video (via the AP) was shot earlier, as Kerry visited the site of the deadly clashes in Kyiv's Independence Square:

UPDATE: 3/4/14 11:00 AM ET

Russians fire warning shots

This amazing video shows Ukrainian soldiers singing and marching at Belbek air base in Crimea, followed by Russian soldiers firing warning shots (via the Associated Press). The AP's caption says "around 300 Ukrainian soldiers, who previously manned the airfield, demanded their jobs back."

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:55 AM ET

Ukrainian border guards

Reuters — Russian navy ships have blocked off the Kerch Strait which separates Ukraine's Crimea region and Russia, the Ukrainian border guard service said on Tuesday.

The border guards have said that Russian servicemen are in control of the Crimean side of the narrow channel and that Russian armored vehicles have been sighted on the Russian side.

"The Kerch Strait is blocked by two Russian ships — from the north and from the south," Pavel Shishurin, the deputy head of the border guards, told reporters.

The Russian military has not confirmed his comments.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:45 AM ET

Ministerial talks begin

Reuters — The Ukrainian and Russian governments have begun high-level contacts on the crisis in Ukraine, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk said on Tuesday.

"Consultations have started at the level of ministers," he told reporters but gave no details.

Yatsenuk reiterated that Russia should withdraw forces back to bases in the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea and hold actions which he said threatened to destabilize the region. President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow he would use force in Ukraine only as a last resort.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:45 AM ET

That awkward moment at the G8

On Monday, the G7 (G8 minus Russia), released this statement regarding Russia's involvement in Ukraine:

"We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation's clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

Today, awkward selfie:

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:30 AM ET

Rumors abound in Crimea of drugs, fascists

From GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka, who is monitoring the situation in Crimea:

Ilya Varlamov, a very popular pro-civil rights Russian blogger, offers a photo report on LiveJournal from his visit to Perevalnoye. The situation is not just calm, but downright cozy, according to Varlamov: Ukrainian soldiers are exchanging cigarettes with the armed men in unmarked uniforms most of the world knows as Russian soldiers but in Crimea have earned the monicker "polite men with machine guns."

"You get the impression that they're all friends here," Varlamov writes. The Russian soldiers continue to block the gate to the Ukrainian base, after the Ukrainian commander refused to obey orders from Crimea's new government opposed to the new government in Kyiv. Ukrainian soldiers appear to have unrestricted access to the base, coming and going while the Russian soldiers stand by.

Local residents, mostly wives and relatives of the Ukrainian soldiers, take up positions between the unmarked soldiers and the base. A group of local pro-Russian cossacks, who appear unarmed, have also formed a chain in front of the base. Fifteen-year girls walk by the base and yell "Glory to Ukraine!" to the Russian soldiers, with no one telling them to stop.

The people here distrust the news channels, yet rumors abound. A group of women, with kids, yell at Varlamov to leave: "You'll photograph some nonsense here and then lie that we have a war here! Everything is calm here! My uncle overdid it watching the news and now he's in a hospital, he started having heart pains!" They tell Varlamov that everything became calmer once the Russian soldiers arrived, and now they can let their kids walk to school alone.

In response to Varlamov's question about Maidan, one woman asserts that everyone there was high on drugs. When he asks her where she got that information, she said she heard a rumor. Another man tells of a "brother of a friend of my sister" who saw a fascist parade, complete with swastikas, take place in Kyiv.

Other people talk of American snipers shooting people in Kyiv. The pro-Ukrainian side talks of Russian occupiers ravaging Crimea and near-battles over Ukrainian bases. "You can't believe anyone," Varlamov concludes.

He's not the only blogger on the ground: also here is a popular ultra-right Russian blogger behind the site "Sputnik and Pogrom" — "intelligent nationalism for hipsters," as Varlamov describes it.

Ben C. Solomon captured this candid moment at the Ukrainian air base on Monday night:

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:15 AM ET

US announces $1 billion energy subsidy

The United States announced it was preparing a $1 billion energy subsidy package for Ukraine, just as Russia's Gazprom was cited saying it would remove the discount on gas prices it gives Ukraine.

According to the Associated Press, the "White House announced the package of energy aid, along with training for financial and election institutions and anti-corruption efforts," as Kerry arrived in Kyiv.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 10:00 AM ET

US suspends defense cooperation with Russia

Agence France-Presse — The United States has suspended defense cooperation with Russia because of Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine, the Pentagon said Monday, urging Moscow to "de-escalate the crisis."

"We have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The suspension covers "exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences, Kirby said.

The United States is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine, he said.

"We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases, as required under the agreements governing the Russia Black Sea Fleet," he said.

Kirby also stressed that US forces have not altered their presence in the Black Sea or elsewhere in response to the crisis.

"There has been no change to our military posture in Europe or the Mediterranean," he said.

Naval forces continue to carry out "routine, previously planned operations and exercises with allies and partners in the region," he said.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 9:40 AM ET

No more discount for Ukraine

Reuters — Russia's top gas producer Gazprom will remove a discount on gas prices for Ukraine from April, Interfax news agency cited the company's chief as saying on Tuesday.

Alexei Miller also said Gazprom could offer Ukraine a loan of $2-3 billion to pay off the country's debt of more than $1.5 billion after Ukraine told the state company it was unable to pay in full for gas deliveries in February, according to Interfax.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 8:35 AM ET

Kerry arrives in Kyiv

Reuters — US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday and announced an economic package and technical assistance for Ukraine in a show of support for its new government amid escalating tensions with Russia.

Kerry's visit comes as Washington and its Western allies step up pressure on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine's Crimea region or face economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

A senior US administration official, who briefed reporters en route to Kyiv, said the Obama administration would work with Congress to approve $1 billion in loan guarantees to help lessen the impact on Ukrainians of proposed energy subsidy cuts.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 7:40 AM ET

Aid for Ukraine, sanctions for Russia

UPDATE: 3/4/14 6:40 AM ET

Putin declares a 'coup' in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the events in Ukraine "an unconstitutional overthrow and armed seizure of power," during an address on Tuesday.

Putin said Yanukovych signed an agreement in front of foreign ministers and a Russian representative and "he didn’t give one illegal command to shoot unfortunate protestors."

He added that, "The interim president is not legitimate. From the legal perspective it is Mr. Yanukovych who is president."

Putin blamed the unrest in Crimea on "nationalist rebels" and "radicals."

He categorized Russia's actions as a "humanitarian mission," saying, "I have to remind everyone of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, where they acted without the approval of the UN."

He also denied that the soldiers in unmarked uniforms were Russian, calling them local self-defense troops.

Those considering sanctions should remember that they hurt both sides, Putin warned.

When asked about the prospect of war, Putin replied: "No, because we will not go to war with the Ukrainian people."

Apparently Putin has informed Yanukovych that he has "no political future," and given him refuge because otherwise he would have been killed in Ukraine.

Putin said the only three legal means to remove a president are thus: "death, personal resignation or impeachment."

The Guardian and the BBC have more details.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 5:30 AM ET

Prime minister to meet with EU

Agence France-Presse — Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk will meet EU leaders Thursday ahead of an emergency summit the same day on the crisis in his country, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said.

EU leaders "will discuss situation in Ukraine with PM Yatsenyuk in Brussels Thursday prior to extraordinary summit," Van Rompuy said in a Tweeted message Tuesday.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 5:20 AM ET

Putin ends battle readiness check

Agence France-Presse — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told troops to return to their permanent bases after calling a snap drill to check their battle-readiness last week.

"The commander-in-chief President Vladimir Putin gave the order to the troops and units taking part in military exercises to return to their permanent bases," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

Putin on February 26 ordered snap combat readiness drills involving thousands of troops, in what was ostensibly a routine exercise.

The drill involved army, navy and airforce troops based in the central and western military districts, a vast territory that includes regions bordering Ukraine but also extending to the Arctic.

The drill did not include any regions beyond Russia's borders such as Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea region which has become a flashpoint in the standoff between Moscow and Ukraine's new authorities after the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had said that the drill would include military exercises "on Russia's borders with other countries, including Ukraine".

The drill, which was initially announced to finish on Monday, came shortly before Russian security forces began operating covertly in Crimea and Putin gained permission from senators for military intervention.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 4:50 AM ET

A 'quiet' night in Crimea

Agence France-Presse — Fears of an assault by Russian forces on Ukrainian military bases surrounded in Crimea did not materialize overnight, a Ukrainian defense ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

"The night was quiet," Vladyslav Seleznyov, the defense ministry spokesman for Crimea, told AFP in the regional capital Simferopol.

Ukrainian officials said Monday that Russia had given Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea an ultimatum to surrender or face an all-out assault, although Russia denounced the claim as "complete nonsense".

"No more declarations have been made by the Russian side," Seleznyov said.

UPDATE: 3/4/14 1:30 AM ET

Kerry's trip a morale boost

Agence France-Presse — The United States suspended military cooperation with Russia due to its military intervention in Ukraine, as Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to visit Kyiv Tuesday amid a deepening crisis.

"We have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement Monday.

The suspension of the post-Cold War cooperation covers exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences, Kirby added.

Kyiv's new Western-leaning leadership is due to receive a morale boost Tuesday when Kerry meets with the new Ukrainian leadership and parliament to "reaffirm the United States' strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity," the US State Department said.

NATO is also to hold an urgent meeting on Tuesday at Poland's request, after the neighbor of Ukraine raised concerns about its own security in light of the crisis.

The world's richest nations have already threatened to strip Moscow of its coveted seat at the Group of Eight industrialized nations for menacing its ex-Soviet neighbor.

But Europe and Washington appear to have limited options in dealing with Putin — a veteran strongman with mass domestic appeal who has cracked down on political freedoms and appears more interested in rebuilding vestiges of the Soviet Union than repairing relations with the West.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 6:05 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please follow our Twitter list for further developments.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 6:00 PM ET

Ukraine's navy comes under siege as Russia tightens its grip on Crimea

Reuters — The new head of Ukraine's navy has been in the job for less than a day, but, like his fleet and parts of his country, he is already under siege.

On Monday morning, Serhiy Haiduk told his men that his predecessor, who defected to the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea the previous day, was wanted for treason.

In the evening, he was holed up behind the crumbling white walls of his headquarters with some well-armed Russian soldiers and at least 200 angry pro-Russian activists at his gates.

Meanwhile, two warships — all that what was left of his fleet of around a dozen vessels — found themselves blocked in their Black Sea berths in Sevastopol by a Russian minesweeper.

"A Russian commander went aboard the Ukrainian ships for talks this morning. The ships tried to leave but couldn't and now you can see that Russian minesweeper is blocking them," a local tour guide, who shows people round the port, told Reuters.

Read the full story.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:45 PM ET

'Do you feel like you'll be fighting your brother?'

From GlobalPost's Ben C. Solomon:

BELBEK AIR FORCE BASE, Ukraine — Russian forces in Crimea issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian military there on March 3: surrender or face attack. At Belbek air base near the city of Sevastopol, these soldiers refused to leave.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:30 PM ET

Former Russian lawmaker: Crimean authorities to cut off power & water

Reuters — Pro-Russian authorities in Crimea will cut off water and electricity to Ukrainian soldiers in bases surrounded by Russian forces on Monday night, a Russian former lawmaker loyal to President Vladimir Putin said.

Sergei Markov, who held meetings with pro-Russian authorities on the Ukrainian peninsula earlier on Monday, told reporters the soldiers would also be told they would not receive their next pay packet if they did not publicly renounce their loyalty to the new provisional government in Kiev, the capital.

"If they stay here and remain loyal to Kiev and the Ukrainian government, it will become more uncomfortable for them," said Markov, who sits in a Kremlin-backed public policy chamber. "The pressure is going to increase tonight."

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:25 PM ET

Some back-and-forth

France's ambassador:

Russia's envoy:

UK's envoy:

Russia's envoy responds:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:20 PM ET

US ambassador to UN responds

US Ambassador Samantha Power responded to Russia's envoy on the question of ousted President Yanukovych's legitmacy.

She said Yanukovych packed up his bags and left an empty seat for two days while his country was in crisis.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:15 PM ET

Russia's envoy questions US ambassador's sources

Russia's envoy said US Ambassador Samantha Power must be getting all her information from American TV.

To illustrate, Vitaly Churkin drew this analogy:

Here is the full text of Power's speech earlier at the UNSC.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 5:10 PM ET

Ukraine and Russia go head-to-head at UNSC

There were subtle digs on each side about the use of language, with Ukraine's envoy Yuriy Sergeyev saying he spoke Russian but didn't need Russian protection, while Russia's envoy Vitaliy Churkin said he looked forward to more speeches from Sergeyev in Russian.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 4:55 PM ET

China and Australia at the UNSC

UPDATE: 3/3/14 4:40 PM ET

Former Georgian president warns Ukraine and allies to prepare for worst

If there's anyone who is familiar with Russia's military aggression, it is former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

In Kyiv to advise the Ukrainian government, Saakashvili told The Daily Beast that Ukraine and its allies must prepare for the worst.

"Right now my advice to the Ukraine government is to maintain maximum restraint, but to prepare for the worst, because I don’t think Vladimir Putin is going to stop where he is. He is not going to stop anywhere until he gets rid of the leadership in [Kyiv]," he told The Daily Beast.

"The West should be ready that there might be a war here."

Read the full piece at The Daily Beast.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 4:30 PM ET

China and Australia at the UNSC

There was no condemnation of Russia in China's statement.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 4:15 PM ET

More on Yanukovych's letter to Russia

Reuters — Ukraine's ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych has sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting that he use the Russian military to restore law and order in Ukraine, Moscow's UN envoy said on Monday.

"Under the influence of Western countries, there are open acts of terror and violence," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin quoted the letter from Yanukovych to Putin in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

"People are being persecuted for language and political reasons," he quoted the letter as saying. "So in this regard I would call on the President of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine."

Churkin held up a copy of the letter for council members to see.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 4:10 PM ET

Yanukovych asked Putin to use military force, says Russian envoy

On the UNSC meeting:

The BBC reports: "Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to use military force in Ukraine, says Russia's envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin."

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power shot back at Churkin's assertions, saying they had no "basis in reality," according to Al Jazeera America.

"It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace," Power said.

"Russia military action is a violation of international law. Russian military bases in Ukraine are secure. Russian mobilization is a response to an imaginary threat. Military action can not be justified on the basis of threats that haven't been made or aren't being carried out. Russia needs to engage directly with the government of Ukraine."

And the French ambassador weighed in next:

Followed by the British ambassador to the UN:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 3:55 PM ET

Russian troops arriving by the truckload

Reuters — Russian forces seized control of the border guard checkpoint on the Ukrainian side of the ferry crossing between Russia and Crimea, and began bringing in truckloads of soldiers by ferry on Monday evening, Ukrainian border guards said.

Russians have been surrounding the ferry terminal for days but until now had not taken control of Ukraine's border guard station. A border guards spokesman said Russian troops seized it and brought three truckloads of soldiers across.

Here is a visualization from the Guardian of Ukraine and Russia's military capabilities in the region:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 3:50 PM ET

Russian troop movements

The BBC reported:

"Acting Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh says that about 16,000 Russian servicemen are currently on Ukrainian territory, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reports."

Kyiv Post cited Olena Bagriantseva, who lives in Crimea's Simferopol, saying "local media report that Russians are blockading Ukrainian military posts and not allowing relatives or anyone else bring food to the Ukrainian soldiers."

And this from ITN Channel 4's Stuart Webb, in Simferopol:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 3:40 PM ET

Majority of Russians oppose interfering in Ukraine

From GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka:

A poll that received 1,600 responses from 130 cities and towns in Russia found that 73 percent of the Russian population opposes any interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine between its deposed government and the protesters that took over.

The poll, conducted by Noviy Region — Kyiv (New Region — Kyiv) focused on the Russian stance with regard to the toppling of the Ukrainian government led by Yanukovych, rather than on sending troops to Ukraine to support Russian-speaking regions in the east of Ukraine and Crimea.

Furthermore, 75 percent said they think an overthrow of the government a la EuroMaidan is unlikely to happen in Russia, and 94 percent of respondents do not wish it to happen.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 3:00 PM ET

Poland is the most concerned of the EU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had strong words for Putin, telling him that any military intervention would be "unacceptable," according to her spokesperson.

The most ominous remarks, however, came from Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

"History shows — although I don't want to use too many historical comparisons — that those who appease all the time in order to preserve peace usually only buy a little bit of time," Tusk told reporters in a thinly veiled reference to the Allied capitulation to Adolph Hitler's annexing of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in 1938.

Senior Correspondent Jason Overdorf gives the overview from central Europe.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 2:55 PM ET

NATO to hold emergency meeting

Reuters — NATO will hold emergency discussions on Ukraine on Tuesday after Poland requested consultations under Article 4 of the alliance's treaty, NATO said in a statement on Monday.

Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

"The developments in and around Ukraine are seen to constitute a threat to neighboring Allied countries and having direct and serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area," the alliance said.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 2:45 PM ET

EU is also considering sanctions, says Poland's FM

Reuters — The EU's foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday agreed to consider sanctions on Russia if it does not take steps to defuse the crisis in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said.

"The EU not only asked Russia to de-escalate the situation in Crimea, but said that if Russia does not do that, the EU would consider imposing sanctions," he told Polish broadcaster Polsat News from Brussels.

At talks on the Ukraine crisis in Brussels, they agreed no deadlines or details about any punitive measures that could be put in place against Russia, but leaders of the bloc's 28 nations will hold an emergency summit on Thursday and could take further decisions.

The EU discussions were convened abruptly after Russian President Vladimir Putin seized the Crimean peninsula and said he had the right to invade Ukraine.

"We need to see a return to barracks by those troops that have currently moved (from) where they have been staying," the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters after the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

"There are serious concerns about overflights, about reports of troops and armed personnel moving."

In Monday's talks, EU governments sought to strike a balance between pressuring Moscow and finding a way to calm the situation.

"We want the situation to de-escalate to the position the troops had before this began," Ashton said.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 2:35 PM ET

Obama tells Russia it's 'on the wrong side of history'

While meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama made the following comments on the crisis in Ukraine:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 2:25 PM ET

Is the UK keeping trade curbs off the table?

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson has this:

"The government will not curb trade with Russia or close London's financial centre to Russians as part of any possible package of sanctions against Moscow, according to an official document."

"The document, which was photographed as a senior official carried it into a meeting in Downing Street, says that "the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London's financial centre to Russians", while it confirms that ministers ARE considering — along with other EU countries — visa restrictions and travel bans on key Russian figures."

Read more at the BBC.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 2:10 PM ET

Russia's propaganda campaign

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Moscow on the Kremlin's propaganda machine:

Ukraine’s new authorities are an ultranationalist, neo-fascist gang who’ve seized power with covert Western support and are bent on marauding Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine and forcing its peaceful citizens into submission at gunpoint.

That’s probably what you’d believe if you relied on Russian state television for news about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last week.

As tensions there escalate amid Kyiv’s desperate scramble to restore political order, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is serving as an ideological vanguard for Russia’s military operations there.

The message is simple: Ukraine has been seized by an illegitimate junta, its destiny is to become a failed state and the resulting chaos threatens the country’s large number of Russian speakers.

Fed to Russia’s population — much of which gets its news primarily from state-run television — that rhetoric has helped Moscow justify the threat of war against its neighbor.

Read more from Peleschuk's report: Russian TV beats war drum on home front

UPDATE: 3/3/14 1:50 PM ET

Anti-war protests around the world

With Russian troops reportedly amassing near Ukraine's border and some possibly already in the country, several cities around the world saw anti-war protests take place over the weekend.

Protesters could be seen being dragged off by police in Moscow, while similar protests took place in New York, Washington, the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Turkey's Ankara and Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

Take a look at some of the most striking images from those protests here.

From a protest in New York (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 3/3/14 1:35 PM ET

US considering sanctions

Reuters — US lawmakers are considering options such as imposing sanctions on Russia's banks, freezing assets of Russian public institutions and private investors and enacting travel bans because of its moves in Ukraine, US Senator Chris Murphy, the chairman of the Senate's Europe subcommittee, said on Monday.

Murphy told Reuters in a telephone interview that US sanctions against Russia will have little effect if they are not matched by actions from Europe.

"What is most important now is that the United States act in concert with our allies in Europe," the Connecticut Democrat said. "Unilateral US sanctions against Russia are not going to have much an effect if Europe remains a haven for Russian banks and Russian oligarchs to stash and invest their money."

More on the State Department:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 1:15 PM ET

Meanwhile, the EU...

Reuters — The European Union called on Russia on Monday to withdraw its troops to bases and hold consultations with Kyiv, while extending the possibility of holding a summit of EU leaders to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters after emergency talks among EU foreign ministers on the crisis that she "anticipated" the EU to convene a summit on the issue this week.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels for an emergency summit on Ukraine on Thursday, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said on Monday.

EU leaders "will discuss the latest developments in Ukraine and how to facilitate the necessary de-escalation of the situation."

However, a former British ambassador to the United States told the BBC, "I think we now have to accept that there is no way, and no form of pressure that can be deployed right now which will make the Russians withdraw from Crimea."

Sir Christopher Meyer told the BBC: "Crimea and the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol are too important to the Russian national interest for them to go... So what we have to do is... come up with a right calibration of language, sanctions and diplomatic initiatives that will stop this crisis escalating into some form of hot war."

UPDATE: 3/3/14 1:00 PM ET

Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk

Reuters — Pro-Russian demonstrators occupied the regional government building in east Ukraine's city of Donetsk on Monday, besieging lawmakers as they voted to support the protesters but stopped short of meeting their demands for a split from Kyiv.

The chaotic scene in the heart of Ukraine's Russian-speaking east was one of the boldest actions yet by pro-Russian youths after several days of rallies in eastern and southern cities that Kyiv says are organized by Moscow as a pretext to invade.

The protesters stormed the building and reached the second floor where the regional council sits, despite efforts to keep them out by switching off lifts and sealing stairwell doors.

Many parts of Ukraine have seen this rift, including Kharkiv and parts of Crimea, as Ben C. Solomon observed during his reports.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 12:45 PM ET

Russia will face isolation if it goes to war

Reuters — Vice President Joe Biden warned Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a phone call on Monday of "increasing political and economic isolation" if Russia does not pull back its forces from Ukraine, a White House official said.

"The vice president made clear that if the situation in Ukraine is not resolved, Russia will face increasing political and economic isolation," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 12:40 PM ET

Reports from Ukraine contradict Russian ministry's denial

Despite the denial from Russia's Defense Ministry, Ukrainian officers have confirmed receiving an ultimatum.

The Kyiv Post reported:

"A Ukrainian naval officer, Alexei Kyrylov, confirmed to Channel 5 today that the Russian Black Sea Fleet command has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian naval forces to surrender by 5 p.m. today. Kyrylov told the news channel that he expected an attack by 7 p.m. tonight. Kyrylov is stationed with two Ukrainian ships Ternopil and Slavutych in Sevastopol Bay."

And this from Kyiv Post's Christopher Miller:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 12:10 PM ET

Russian defense ministry denies issuing an ultimatum

[Note: The link is in Russian.]

UPDATE: 3/3/14 12:00 PM ET

Prime minister of Ukraine says on the 'brink of disaster'

Ukraine's acting prime minister made a plea to the West for economic and political aid on Monday, according to Al Jazeera.

Arseny Yatsenyuk said at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, "Any attempt of Russia to grab Crimea will have no success at all. Give us some time."

He alerted allies that "we are on the brink of disaster," according to the Associated Press.

His words to Russia were far more defiant.

According to the Kyiv Post, he said, "No one will ever give Crimea to anybody."

"There wasn’t, no, [sic] and will not be any reasons for using force against peaceful citizens and bringing of military forces. The price should be paid for such actions. We realize that Russian Federation has its interests but we address to Russia: you have no right to protect your interests by violating ours," Yatsenyuk said during a press conference.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 11:45 AM ET

Russia demands the surrender of warships

According to the Associated Press, Ukraine said Russian forces have demanded the surrender of the crews of two Ukrainian warships.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry spokesman Maksim Prauta said Ukraine's anti-sub warship Ternopil and command ship Slavutych were being blocked by four Russian navy ships in Sevastopol's harbor.

The Russians have reportedly demanded the crews' surrender within the hour.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 11:10 AM ET

'Putin is behaving like Hitler'

A former Czhech foreign minister had harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

"What's happening in Ukraine is history repeating itself," Karel Schwarzenberg said in an interview with Austrian daily Osterreich.

"Putin is acting along the same principle as Adolf Hitler" did during his invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1938 and 1939, the former minister said.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 11:00 AM ET

Russians issue ultimatum

The Kyiv Post reported:

Russian military commanders have reportedly given the Ukrainian navy until 7 p.m. today to surrender and Ukrainian troops stationed on Crimea's mainland until 5 a.m. tomorrow — or else they face attack. But the threats could be part of the war of nerves designed to rattle Ukraine. The nation's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said that Russia gave Ukraine a similar ultimatum two days earlier, with the deadline of 5 a.m. on March 2. "They didn't start storming the bases on 5 a.m., but the situation is still tense there," he said earlier.

However, here is some information complicating reports of the ultimatum. Shaun Walker is the Guardian's correspondent on the ground in Crimea:

UPDATE: 3/3/14 9:45 AM ET

Global stocks waver over threat of war

Reuters — The rising threat of war between Ukraine and Russia sent investors scurrying for relative safety on Monday, pushing stocks down sharply — the Moscow market fell 11.5 percent — and lifting gold to a four-month high.

US investors were set to add their weight to the move at the open, with stock index futures all down around 1 percent and benchmark US Treasury yields down 5.5 basis points.

Geopolitical ripples from Putin's statements about sending troops into Ukraine, which included condemnation from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations and the threat of sanctions, spread through markets, hitting Russian assets the hardest and forcing the Russian central bank to aggressively raise interest rates.

Russia's stock market nosedived at the open and the ruble fell 2 percent to record lows against the dollar and the euro before recovering to trade up 1.4 percent after the central bank dramatically lifted its key lending rate by 1.5 percentage points to 7 percent at an unscheduled meeting.

The country's sovereign dollar bonds were also hit, down more than 2 points, while the cost of buying 5-year swaps to insure against a Russian debt default jumped 33 basis points.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 8:00 AM ET

Russia is building up armored vehicles

Reuters — Russia has started a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of a narrow stretch of water between Russia and the Ukrainian region of Crimea, Ukrainian border guards said on Monday.

A border guard spokesman also said Russian ships had been moving in and around the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone services in some parts of Crimea.

He said the build-up of Russian armor was near a ferry port on the Russian side of what is known as the Kerch Strait, which separates the eastern edge of the Crimea peninsula and the western edge of the Taman Peninsula.

The strait is 4.5 km (2.8 miles) wide at its narrowest point and up to 18 meters (59 feet) deep.

"There are armored vehicles on the other side of the strait. We can't predict whether or not they will put any vehicles on the ferry," the spokesman said by telephone.

The border guard spokesman did not say how many armored vehicles had gathered in Russian territory, opposite the city of Kerch on the Ukrainian side of the strait.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian Defense Ministry.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 5:20 PM ET

John Kerry to visit Kyiv Monday night

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement via Twitter:

Meanwhile, after a vigorous day of diplomacy, Western governments have agreed to further isolate Russia. The Wall Street Journal, however, has reported that the West remains divided on details of the response. For example, "German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the answer lay in Ukraine and Russia coming together to discuss their differences diplomatically," the Journal reported.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 2:45 PM ET


Mayor of Lviv, stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism, reaches out to Crimea

From Moscow, GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk files on a rare effort to calm tensions:

The mayor of Lviv, western Ukraine’s largest city and a bastion of the Ukrainian nationalism that has powered the country’s monthslong protest movement, turned to Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea and the country’s southeast in a bid to dispel fears that Kyiv’s post-revolutionary authorities are motivated by violent radicalism.

In a video address posted late Sunday, Andriy Sadovyy urges them not to listen to reports — such as those regularly spun on Russian state television – that "armed extremists" from Ukraine's western regions were going to invade and restore their own order there.

He added that since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, politicians have sought to score dividends on exaggerating the country’s ethnic and cultural divides. “We respect the desire of all people living in Ukraine – Ukrainians, Russians, Crimean Tatars, Jews, citizens of all nationalities – to peacefully develop their culture, speak their own languages, and remember their own history,” he said.

“But foreign armies will never bring us peaceful development.”

Residents in Crimea, as well as many in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions, have feared what they say are the “fascists” that came to power after Yanukovych’s ouster last week.

They point to presence of various ultranationalist groups that helped overthrow the Yanukovych regime, as well as the heavy representation in the protests of citizens from Ukrainian-speaking western regions, where anti-Russian sentiments have traditionally run high.

Here's a link to the mayor's remarks.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 2:10 PM ET

Where does the West stand?

For a crisis of the size currently developing in Ukraine, President Obama has been conspicuously quiet since making a brief statement on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, on NBC's Meet the Press, Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday denounced Russia's "act of aggression" and warned of a trade freeze. “He's going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he's going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza,” Kerry said.

“He is not going to have a Sochi G-8,” Mr. Kerry added, referring to the meeting of the industrialized nations that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is to host in June. “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues.”

Perhaps the most forceful comment came from Polish President Donald Tusk, who called a press conference on Sunday and said: “Europe must send a clear signal it will not tolerate any acts of aggression of intervention.”

Here's Secretary Kerry:


UPDATE: 3/2/14 1:55 PM ET

Commander of Ukraine’s navy declares allegiance to Crimean forces

Local media in Ukraine reported Sunday that Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, commander of the country’s naval forces, has defected to Crimea’s pro-Russian government. Berezovsky had just been appointed to the position on Saturday.

He was shown on Russian state television Sunday taking an oath of allegiance — alongside Sergei Aksyonov, the region’s defiant prime minister — to the autonomous Republic of Crimea and its people.

Shortly after, Ukrainian prosecutors launched treason charges against him, Reuters reported, noting that he refused to show resistance after Russian forces blockaded Ukraine’s naval headquarters.

GlobalPost's Moscow-based senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk adds: The move will likely further complicate the crisis for Kyiv’s post-revolutionary authorities, who have watched their nationwide authority slip further away after Yanukovych’s ouster last week.

Watch the navy chief's defection on YouTube:

UPDATE: 3/2/14 1:10 PM ET


Russian soldiers surround Ukrainian base (VIDEO)

Russian soldiers surrounded a Ukrainian military base near Perevalnoye, in Crimea on Sunday. GlobalPost's Ben C. Solomon, who shot the video below, says "It's a weirdly calm standoff, with Russian soldiers on one side of the gate, and Ukrainian forces on the other."

UPDATE: 3/2/14 12:50 PM ET

Confusion over status of Ukrainian warships in Crimean peninsula

As hard as it may be to lose sight of warship let alone ten of them, confusion reigned Sunday over the status of Ukrainian warships stationed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

According to Reuters, the ten military vessels remain at the port. The news agency cited Ukrainian authorities, who had earlier indicated that Coast Guard ships had been relocated.

Meanwhile, the nominally-independent Kremlin-funded news service RT reports that the 10 Ukrainian naval vessels have “voluntarily left.”

“Naturally, no one has compelled them to do so,” the government source [said]. The administration of the Crimean autonomy has nothing to do with the moves of the Ukrainian ships, an administrative source also told RIA Novosti.

Meanwhile, RT added that “an unnamed official source earlier told RIA Novosti that ‘the majority of the Ukrainian armed forces deployed in Crimea’ has sworn allegiance to the Crimean authorities.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 9:30 AM ET

As Russian troops dig trenches, Ukraine's new prime minister warns of "disaster."

Sunday has been peaceful but very tense in the Crimean peninsula.

Despite the lack of violence so far, the BBC reports that Russian troops are digging "what appear to be trenches" along the border.

Meanwhile in Kyiv, Ukraine’s new prime minister ramped up the rhetoric by urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops. “We are on the brink of disaster,” Prime Minister Aresnly Yatsenyuk said. His government also mobilized troops today.

And like any strong man, Putin appears to have his own exotic, dedicated defense forces. In Putin's case, they're called Night Wolves, and they're a "fiercely patriotic motorcycle gang," the Telegraph reports. Call them "Putin's Hell's Angels."

UPDATE: 3/2/14 8:15 AM ET

Ukraine calls up reserves

In response to Russia's move to seize control of the Crimean peninsula, on Sunday Ukraine mobilized its reserve troops and threatened war if Russia advanced further into the country.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 7:49 AM ET

Obama consults with Hollande, Harper on Ukraine

As tensions heated up over Russian intervention in Ukraine, US President Barack Obama consulted with the leaders of France and Canada to come up with an aid package for the country, AFP reported.

Experts stress that that any pre-conditions for Western economic aid must effectively help repair Ukraine's ailing economy, without alienating citizens who may be inclined to prefer less restrictive Kremlin aid.

UPDATE: 3/1/14

5:40 PM ET

Putin tells Obama Russia has the right to protect interests in Ukraine

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Barack Obama by telephone that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

In a statement posted online, the Kremlin said Obama had expressed concern about the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

"In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia's armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kyiv," the statement said.

"The Russian President underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that if violence spread further in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers living there."

According to the White House, Obama told Putin that Russia had committed a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by sending forces into Crimea and warned of consequences.

"The United States condemns Russia's military intervention into Ukrainian territory," the White House said in a statement outlining what was discussed in a 90-minute phone call between Obama and Putin.

The White House said the United States will suspend participation in preparatory meetings for G8 summit in Sochi, Russia.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 5:34 PM ET

NATO chief's tweets

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called a meeting for tomorrow on the "grave" situation in Ukraine. Here are a few of his tweets from today:

UPDATE: 3/1/14 4:26 PM ET

Ukraine can defend itself, but wants global backup

Ukraine has asked the United States and other key members of the United Nations Security Council to help safeguard its territorial integrity after Russia announced plans to send armed forces into the country's autonomous Crimea region, Reuters reported.

Reality must have sunk in. The plea came a day after Ukraine's UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev declared, "We are strong enough to defend ourselves."

Today, he told reporters after a closed-door UN meeting: "We can stop the expansion of this aggression."

Ukraine has also asked NATO to look at all possible ways to help it protect itself, Foreign Minister Sergei Deshchiritsya said on Saturday.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:54 PM ET

Hey Russia, you there? Pick up the phone, it's Ukraine

UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:32 PM ET

Raw video: Pro-Russian 'self-defense' groups in Simferopol

Pro-Russian "self defense" groups in Simferopol, Crimea, patrol alongside uniformed soldiers outside Crimean parliament. They also surrounded the Crimean Interior Ministry after reports that armed men from Kyiv tried to take it over.
(Ben C. Solomon/GlobalPost)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:04 PM ET

Will Russia invade Ukraine — or has it already?

In a new analysis piece, GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk examines the Russian government's moves to deploy troops to Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 2:03 PM ET

Ukrainian navy ships reportedly leaving Sevastopol

The flagship of Ukraine's navy, the frigate "Getman Sahaidachny," has left its main base in Sevastopol, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti. Ukrainian media said the report was false. Ria Novosti cited an unnamed "senior official in the headquarters of the Ukrainian Naval Forces" saying other Ukrainian ships currently stationed in the city are also scheduled to leave the base. The day before saw the departure of all six of the Sevastopol base's border patrol vessels, the Russian report said, adding that Odessa is the ships' possible destination.

— Alex Padalka

UPDATE: 3/1/14 12:40 PM ET

Video: This Crimea woman is so psyched she wants to kiss the Russians

"I even wanted to kiss them" one resident exclaimed. (Ben C. Solomon/GlobalPost)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 11:40 AM ET

Calling UN Security Council

Reuters — The United Nations Security Council will hold an urgent meeting on the crisis in Ukraine on Saturday after Russia announced plans to send armed forces into the autonomous Crimea region of the former Soviet republic, council delegations said.

A diplomat from Luxembourg, president of the 15-nation council this month, said the meeting would take place at 2:00 p.m. EST and was being convened at the request of Britain.

The council met on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine's Crimea region but took no formal action, as expected. The meeting highlighted the deep divisions between the United States and other Western nations and Russia, which has a major Black Sea naval base in the Crimea.

At Friday's session, Ukraine accused Russia of illegal military incursions onto Ukrainian territory, while US and European delegations warned Moscow to withdraw any new military forces deployed in neighboring Ukraine. Russia, however, said any military movements by Russian forces there were in compliance with its agreement with Kyiv on maintaining its naval base there.

Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and, therefore, able to block any actions proposed by its members.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 11:24 AM ET

Russia's parliament approves use of troops in Ukraine

Russia's upper house of parliament has approved President Vladimir Putin's request to use Russian troops in Ukraine.

Vitaly Klitschko, a senior Ukrainian politician and likely presidential candidate, called on Saturday for a "general mobilization" following Russian parliament's decision to approve deploying troops in Ukraine's Crimea region.

"Klitschko calls for a declaration on a general mobilization," the retired boxing champion's political party UDAR (Punch) said, making clear he favored a military mobilization.