UPDATE: Russian President Vladimir Putin received permission Saturday from parliament to mobilize the country’s military in Ukraine. Parliament voted unanimously on the request and also recommended that Moscow’s ambassador be recalled from Washington over earlier comments made by President Obama.
EARLIER: Following a clear signal of weakness by President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked parliament to sanction a Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Putin says a military-backed Russian intervention is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in the strategically imperative region of Crimea in Ukraine. The request comes a day after President Obama warned Moscow that “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine.
The latest move by Putin confirms the fears of Ukrainian officials, who described an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea as an “armed invasion.” The Putin motion refers to the “territory of Ukraine” rather than specifically to Crimea, increasing the likelihood that Russia will use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine. In these regions, many oppose the new pro-West government in Kiev.
“I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature’s upper house, which doesn’t necessarily need to approve the motion for Putin to act, contrary to the constitution, because Putin has and will act alone. The rubber-stamp Russian Parliament is expected to approve it in a vote Saturday.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, increasing tensions between the two neighboring Slavic countries.
Sergei Aksenov, the head of the main pro-Russia party on the peninsula, said in a statement reported by local and Russian news agencies that he appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin “for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea.”
The new pro-West government seems to have been completely subverted in the region, at least. Aksenov has already declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards will answer only to his orders. He said any commanders who don’t agree with these developments should simply leave their posts.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said unidentified gunmen sent by Kiev had attempted overnight to seize the Crimea region’s Interior Ministry offices and that innocent people had been wounded in the “treacherous provocation,” a move if true was clearly an attempt for the new government to gain back authority.
Ukrainian border guard vessels were put on combat alert in the Crimea region to prevent the capture of military bases and ships, Interfax news agency quoted the border guard service as saying. Also on Saturday, Ukraine’s defense minister said Russia had “recently” brought 6,000 additional personnel into Ukraine and that the Ukrainian military were on high alert in the Crimea region.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a cabinet meeting by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea.
“We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations,” Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. “Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”
At the White House, President Obama said the U.S. government is “deeply concerned” by reports of Russian “military movements” and warned any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty would be “deeply destabilizing.” However, he made no mention of what the U.S. is prepared to do in the vent of Russian intervention or notably Obama didn’t even bother to mention it was against U.S. interests.
U.S. officials confirmed “evidence of air and maritime movement into and out of Crimea by Russian forces,” but the Pentagon refused to officially “characterize” the movement.
Charles Krauthammer told criticized Obama Friday, saying President Obama’s statement late Friday afternoon showed “weakness” and that the president implied that “we’re not really going to do anything” about the Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Earlier Friday, Agence France Press quoted a top Ukranian official as saying Russian aircraft carrying nearly 2,000 suspected troops have landed at a military air base near the regional capital of the restive Crimean peninsula.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian border service said eight Russian transport planes have landed in Crimea with unknown cargo.
Serhiy Astakhov told The Associated Press that the Il-76 planes arrived unexpectedly Friday and were given permission to land, one after the other, at Gvardeiskoye air base, north of the regional capital, Simferopol.
Astakhov said the people in the planes refused to identify themselves and waved off customs officials, saying they didn’t require their services.
Earlier in the day, Russian armored vehicles rumbled across Crimea and reports surfaced of troops being deployed at airports and a coast guard base – signs of a more heavy-handed approach to the crisis from Moscow.