World scrambles as Russia tightens grip on Crimea
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, put Ukraine’s armed forces on alert, calling up reserves and stepping up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic locations.
Turchynov also appointed 18 new regional governors, including two oligarchs in the eastern cities of Dneprotrovsk and Donetsk, as big business and the new Ukrainian government united against Russia.
Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, urged business, ordinary people and the government to join together, saying Sunday that the use of force and "illegal action from outside" were "impermissible."
Russian troops, meanwhile, pulled up to the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne on the Crimean Peninsula in a convoy Sunday that included at least 13 trucks and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian license plates.
In response, a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, some with clips in their rifles, placed a tank at the base’s gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff. It appeared to be the first known case of outmatched Ukrainians standing up to Russian military might.
Later in the afternoon, civilians backing both Ukraine and Russia walked over to view the standoff at Perevalne, some shaking their heads in amazement in the geo-political developments right in their own town.
Unidentified soldiers were also seen cutting power to the headquarters of the Ukrainian Naval forces in Crimea — whose own commander defected later Sunday and pledged his allegiance to "the people of Crimea."
In Kiev, a Ukrainian security official said the head of the Ukrainian Navy — Adm. Denis Berezovsky — had been dismissed and faces a treason investigation after declaring his allegiance to the pro-Russian government of the Crimea region.
The speaker of Crimea’s legislature, Vladimir Konstantinov, was quoted as saying local authorities do not recognize the new government in Kiev. He said a planned referendum on March 30 would ask voters about the region’s future status.
A convoy of hundreds of Russian troops was also seen heading toward Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea. Armed men in military uniforms without markings strolled around Simferopol’s central plaza, Lenin Square, outside its Council of Ministers building.
In Brussels, NATO’s secretary general said Russia had violated the U.N. charter with its military action in Ukraine, and he urged Moscow to "de-escalate the tensions."
Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense. But Ukraine has taken part in some alliance military exercises.
"It is very important that we all do everything we can to calm tensions," said British Foreign Minister William Hague, who flew to Kiev on Sunday.
He said he has urged Russian officials to "speak directly to the Ukrainians" but so far they had not.
President Barack Obama talked with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes Saturday and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty." Obama warned that Russia’s "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."
In Moscow, at least 10,000 people bearing Russian flags marched freely through the city Sunday, while a few dozen demonstrating on Red Square against the invasion of Ukraine were quickly detained by Russian riot police.
"We understand that the West wants to attack us and seize this territory. It (the West) is dangerous to us," said Victor Sidelin, a Moscow resident at the march.