The newly appointed head of Ukraine’s navy has sworn allegiance to the Crimea region, in the presence of its unrecognised pro-Russian leader. Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky was only made head of the navy on Saturday, as the government in Kiev reacted to the threat of Russian invasion.
Two explosions have been heard in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, with no official details yet available.
Nato’s chief has asked Russia to withdraw its forces to its bases.
“We call on Russia to de-escalate tensions… to withdraw its forces to its bases and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, speaking in Brussels.
Ukraine was a “valued partner” for Nato and should be allowed to determine its own future, he said.
Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved President Putin’s request for Russian forces to be used in Ukraine. He had asked that Russian forces be used “until the normalisation of the political situation in the country”. (read about what the US says of this here)
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where many ethnic Russians live.
Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov said he had put the army on full alert but urged people to remain calm. In a televised address, he asked Ukrainians to bridge divisions in the country and said they must not fall for provocations.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was standing next to Mr Turchynov, said he was “convinced” Russia would not intervene militarily “as this would be the beginning of war and the end of all relations”.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin submitted the request for troops “in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens”, the Kremlin said.
The upper house went into a special session almost immediately after Mr Putin made the request, and swiftly approved it.
Some fear this is the start of World War III
The new pro-Russian leader of Ukraine’s southern Crimea region has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in maintaining peace, as international concerns mount that Moscow may intervene militarily in the crisis.
A Kremlin spokesman said Russia “will not disregard” Crimean Premier Sergey Aksyonov’s request for help “in maintaining peace and accord in Crimea.”
Aksyonov, who was installed as the region’s premier after armed men took over the Crimean parliament building Thursday, said security forces “are unable to efficiently control the situation in the republic,” in comments broadcast on Russian state channel Russia 24.
Consequently, he said, he was taking charge of security. His actions are also a response to Kiev’s actions in appointing a new police chief in Crimea on Friday without consulting the parliament, he said.
“I am appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide assistance in ensuring peace and accord” in Crimea, he said.
Russia could send a “limited” armed force to Crimea to ensure security of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens living there, the Speaker of Russia’s Upper House of Parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said Saturday, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The crisis in Crimea has echoed round the world, with the U.N. Security Council president holding a private meeting about the crisis enveloping Ukraine on Friday and world leaders calling on armed groups not to attempt to challenge Ukrainian sovereignty.
Russian police have made nearly 500 arrests at opposition rallies in the country’s two main cities, including several well-known protest figures.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was among those picked up in Moscow on Monday evening, as he attended an unapproved rally near the Kremlin.
He and others have appeared in court, charged with offences that entail a fine or detention of up to 15 days.
The rallies were called to protest at sentences passed on other activists.
Seven people had received prison terms of up to four years on Monday, for rioting and attacking police at a demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow. Human rights organisation Amnesty International condemned the sentences as a “hideous injustice”, at the end of a “show trial”.
While the rallies on Monday in Moscow and St Petersburg were called to protest at the Bolotnaya sentences, some demonstrators also made shows of solidarity with the protesters in Ukraine, who brought down President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned on Sunday that it “would be a grave mistake” if Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened militarily in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Rice was among U.S. leaders saying they want to see a unity coalition government in the country after President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, the capital, and a unanimous vote in Parliament removed him from power.
“The United States is on the side of the Ukrainian people,” Rice said. The people expressed themselves peacefully, she said, and Yanukovych “turned on” the people by using violence against them.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said there must be focus on forming a unity government. “Yanukovych needs to step aside, and I will say this: Now that the Olympics are over, we need to watch the behavior of the Russians,” she said.
Obama “needs to up his game and send a clear, unequivocal, public message to Putin not to interfere in what is happening in Ukraine,” Ayotte said, “to let the Ukrainian people determine their future, to ensure that there is no interference in their sovereignty.”
Will all this tension break into a third World War?
Parliament in Ukraine has named its speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, as interim president.
Turchynov takes charge following the dismissal of President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday (read more of this here) . Mr Turchynov told MPs they had until Tuesday to form a new unity government.
Parliament also voted to seize Mr Yanukovych’s luxury estate near Kiev, which protesters entered on Saturday.
The whereabouts of Mr Yanukovych, who described parliament’s decision to vote him out as a coup, remain unclear.
Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Independence Square, where the atmosphere is described as calm, after weeks of violent clashes ending in the death of dozens.
After weeks of fighting for a better country, the citizens of Ukraine have managed to remove president Viktor Yanukovich from power. Ukraine’s fromer Prime Minister and hero of the country’s 2004 revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from prision and has returned to Kiev to claim justice for all the dead protesters.
Tymoshenko served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, and was forced out of office after losing an election to Yanukovych. She was sentenced in 2011 to seven years in prison after being convicted of abuse of authority over a natural gas deal negotiated with Russia in 2009.
Tymoshenko’s release was the latest in a day of dramatic, fast-paced developments that saw Parliament vote to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office and call for new elections. Just hours after her release from a prison hospital, Tymoshenko called for justice for protesters killed in demonstrations sparked by the President’s decision to scrap a trade deal with the European Union in favor of one with Russia.
President Yanukovich, after seeing that the elections of wether to keep him or not as a ruler were being lost, tried to flee the country but had no proper paperwork to do so, therefore was stopped by local inspectors. He denied the attempt to leave the country. Ukraine’s dismissed interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, also was refused exit from the country in a similar incident at the same airport, Astakov said.
The events of the day raise questions about just who is in control in Ukraine, with Parliament voting to oust Yanukovych and hold new elections on May 25.
The vote came just 24 hours after Yanukovych signed a peace deal with the opposition intended to end days of bloody protests.
Has Ukraine finally found peace?