Ukraine mobilising for war as US threatens Russia
Kremlin says situation in Crimea poses ‘real threats’ to Russian citizens living in territory
Armed men in military uniform stand near the Ukrainian coat of arms, outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol today. Photograph: Alexey Furman/EPA
US president Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Russian president Vladimir Putin last night. Photograph: Official White House Photo/Pete Souza
Heavily-armed troops displaying no identifying insignia and who were mingling with local pro-Russian militants stand guard outside a local government building in Simferopol, Ukraine. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
An unidentified military ship - believed to be Russian - is seen off the coast of Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine. Photograph: EPA
Ukrainian military personnel stand next to an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in the Crimean port city of Feodosiya today. Photographh: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
Ukraine is mobilising for war and Washington has threatened to isolate Russia economically, after president Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbour in Moscow’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.
“This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country,” Ukraine’s prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovich fled last week, said in English.
Mr Putin secured permission from his parliament yesterday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine and told US president Barack Obama he had the right to defend Russian interests and nationals, spurning Western pleas not to intervene.
Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea - an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base.
Today they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, leading to standoffs, although no shots were fired.
All eyes are now on whether Russia makes a military move in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow demonstrators have marched and raised Russian flags over public buildings in several cities in the last two days.
Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed. Kiev says Moscow is orchestrating the protests to justify a wider invasion.
Ukraine’s security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert. However, Kiev’s small and underequipped military is seen as no match for Russia’s superpower might.
The Defence Ministry was ordered to stage a call-up of reserves - theoretically all men up to 40 in a country with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.
US secretary of state John Kerry condemned Russia for what he called an “incredible act of aggression” and threatened “very serious repercussions”.
“You don’t just, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext,” Mr Kerry told CBS programme Face the Nation.
Mr Kerry said Moscow still had a “right set of choices” to defuse the crisis. Otherwise, G8 countries and other nations were prepared to “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia”.
“They are prepared to isolate Russia economically. The rouble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges,” he said. He mentioned visa bans, asset freezes and trade isolation as possible steps. A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment after Mr Kerry’s remarks.
Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations said Kiev would ask for international military support if Russia expanded its military action in his country.
Threat to eastern Ukraine
At Kiev’s Independence Square, where anti-Yanukovich protesters had camped out for months, thousands demonstrated against Russian military action. Speakers delivered rousing orations and placards read: “Putin, hands off Ukraine!”
“If there is a need to protect the nation, we will go and defend the nation,” said Oleh, an advertising executive cooking over an open fire at the square where he has been camped for three months. “If Putin wants to take Ukraine for himself, he will fail. We want to live freely and we will live freely.“”