March 1, 2014


[In a strongly worded statement after the call, the White House said the United States would immediately pull out of preparations for the G8 economic summit meeting scheduled for Sochi in June. The statement warned of “greater political and economic isolation” for Russia if the country’s “violation of international law” continued.]

Pro-Russian Crimea Leader Moves to Cement Control Over Region
Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Russian armed forces effectively seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on Saturday, as President Vladimir V. Putin had the Russian Parliament grant him broad authority to use military force in Ukraine in response to deepening instability there.
Russian troops stripped of identifying insignia and military vehicles bearing the black license plates of Russia’s Black Sea force swarmed the major thoroughfares of Crimea and occupied major government buildings, closing the main airport and solidifying what had been a covert effort to control the largely pro-Russian region of Ukraine.
In Moscow, Mr. Putin convened the upper house of Parliament to forcefully denounce President Obama and obtain authorization to protect Russian citizens and soldiers stationed in Crimea as well as other parts of Ukraine.
Both actions, military and parliamentary, were a direct rebuff to Mr. Obama, who on Friday pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. In the south, in Crimea, scores of heavily armed soldiers fanned out across the center of the regional capital, Simferopol. They wore green camouflage uniforms with no identifying insignia, but they spoke Russian and were clearly part of a Russian military mobilization. In Balaklava, a long column of military vehicles blocking the road to a border post bore Russian plates.
Large pro-Russia crowds rallied in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, where there were reports of violence. In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, fears grew within the new provisional government that separatist upheaval would fracture the country just days after a three- month period of civil unrest had ended with the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally who fled to Russia.
President Obama accused Russia of a “breach of international law” and condemned the country’s military intervention, calling it a “clear violation” of Ukrainian sovereignty.
Mr. Obama, who had warned Russia on Friday that “there will be costs” if Russia violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, spoke with Mr. Putin for 90 minutes on Saturday, according to the White House, and urged Mr. Putin to withdraw its forces back to its bases in Crimea and to stop “any interference” in other parts of Ukraine.
In a strongly worded statement after the call, the White House said the United States would immediately pull out of preparations for the G8 economic summit meeting scheduled for Sochi in June. The statement warned of “greater political and economic isolation” for Russia if the country’s “violation of international law” continued.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron said that “there can be no excuse for outside military intervention” in Ukraine. “Everyone must think carefully about their actions and work to lower, not escalate, tension. The world is watching.”
Mr. Yanukovych’s refusal, under Russian pressure, to sign new political and free trade agreements with the European Union last fall set off the civil unrest that last month led to the deaths of more than 80 people, and ultimately unraveled his presidency.
While Western leaders grappled for a response on Saturday, a Ukrainian military official in Crimea said Ukrainian soldiers had been told to “open fire” if they came under attack by Russia troops or others.
In addition to the risk of open war, it was a day of frayed nerves and set-piece political appeals that recalled ethnic conflicts of past decades in the former Soviet bloc, from the Balkans to the Caucasus.
On Saturday morning, the pro-Russia prime minister of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that he had sole control over the military and the police in the disputed peninsula and appealed to Mr. Putin for Russian help in safeguarding the region. He also said a public referendum on independence would be held on March 30.
The Kremlin has denied any attempt to seize Crimea, where it maintains important military installations, including the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet. But the Kremlin quickly issued a statement saying that Mr. Aksyonov’s plea “would not be ignored,” and within hours the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Parliament, had authorized military action.
The authorization, while citing Crimea, covered the use of Russian forces in the entire “territory of Ukraine,” and its time frame extended indefinitely “until the normalization of the sociopolitical environment in the country.” Parliament also asked Mr. Putin to withdraw Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Officials in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, reacted angrily and reiterated their demands that Russia pull back its forces, and confine them to the military installations in Crimea that Russia has long leased from Ukraine.
“The presence of Russian troops in Crimea now is unacceptable,” said acting Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk. Decrying the Russian deployment as a “provocation,” he added, “We call on the government of the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its troops, return to the place of deployment and stop provoking civil and military confrontation in Ukraine.”
Sergey Tigipko, a former deputy prime minister of Ukraine and one-time ally of Mr. Yanukovych, and still an influential member of Parliament, said he flew to Moscow in hopes of negotiating a truce.
For the new government, the tensions in Crimea created an even more dire and immediate emergency than the looming financial disaster that they had intended to focus on in their first days in office.
A $15 billion bailout that Mr. Yanukovych secured from Russia has been suspended as a result of the political upheaval and Ukraine is in desperate need of an assistance package. Mr. Yatsenyuk had said that the government’s first responsibility was to begin negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and start to put in place the economic reforms and painful austerity measures that the fund has requested in exchange for help.
In Crimea, however, officials said they did not recognize the new government, and declared that they had taken control.
Mr. Aksyonov, the regional prime minister, said he was ordering the regional armed forces, the Interior Ministry troops, the Security Service, border guards and other ministries under his direct control.
He added, “I ask anyone who disagrees to leave the service.”
As soldiers mobilized across the peninsula, the region’s two main airports were closed, with civilian flights canceled, and they were guarded by heavily armed man in military uniforms.
Similar forces surrounded the regional Parliament building and the rest of the government complex in downtown Simferopol, as well as numerous other strategic locations, including communication hubs and a main bus station.
Adding to the strange tableau, a crowd of about 400 people gathered near the Parliament building in Simferopol to denounce the United States.
Some waved orange and black flags, while others held placards that said “Free Ukraine from US Occupation” and “The USA works with Fascism.”
One elderly woman held up a photo of President Obama with a red line through it and the caption “Yankee Go Home.” She then helped lead part of the crowd in a chant of “Yankees Go Home.”
Near the entrance to Balaklava, the site of a Ukrainian customs and border post near Sevastopol, the column of military vehicles with Russian plates included 10 troop trucks, with 30 soldiers in each, two military ambulances and five armored vehicles. The column was not moving.
Soldiers, wearing masks and carrying automatic rifles, stood on the road keeping people away from the convoy, while some local residents gathered in a nearby square waving Russian flags and shouting, “Russia! Russia!”
As with the troops in downtown Simferopol, the soldiers did not have markings on their uniforms. They would not say where they were from.
There were also other unconfirmed reports of additional Russian military forces arriving in Crimea, including Russian ships landing in Fedosiya, in eastern Crimea.
On Friday, American officials said that they had confirmed reports of Russian troop deployments in Crimea including special forces and specially trained marine and airborne units. Ilyushin transport planes were said to have ferried in troops and there were reports of Russian helicopter flights.
Crimea, while part of Ukraine, has enjoyed a large degree of autonomy under an agreement with the federal government in Kiev since shortly after Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union.
The strategically important peninsula, which has been the subject of military disputes for centuries, has strong historic, linguistic and cultural ties to Russia. The population of roughly two million is predominantly Russian, followed by a large number of Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars, people of Turkic-Muslim origin.
Meanwhile, outpourings of pro-Russia sentiment were also underway in eastern Ukraine.
In Kharkiv, pro-Russian demonstrators rallied and then seized control of a government building, pulled down the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and raised the blue, white and red Russian one. Scores of people were injured as protesters scuffled with supporters of the new government in Kiev.
In Donetsk, a crowd of several thousand people held a rally in the city-center, local news agencies reported, with many chanting pro-Russian slogans and demanding a public referendum on secession from Ukraine.
There were also signs on Saturday of concern among Ukrainian business leaders over an effort by several European countries, including Austria and Switzerland, to freeze Mr. Yanukovych’s assets as well as those of his family members and other prominent associates.
On Friday, Mr. Yanukovych held a news conference at a shopping mall in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, where he insisted that he was still the legitimate president of Ukraine and planned to return.
Correction: March 1, 2014 

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the ousted Ukrainian president. He is Viktor F. Yanukovych, not Yanuovych.

Alison Smale reported from Simferopol, and David M. Herszenhorn from Kiev, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Noah Sneider and Patrick Reevell from Simferopol; Andrew Higgins from Sevastopol, Ukraine; Andrew Roth from Moscow; and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.