Radio Free Europe on March 1, 2014, reported that Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov says he has ordered Ukraine’s armed forces to be put on combat alert, as the United States, European Union, and NATO called on Russia not to deploy armed forces in Ukraine. Excerpts below:
Turchynov’s announcement, in a televised address, came after Russia’s Federation Council upper house of parliament voted unanimously on March 1 to approve the use of Russian forces in Ukraine.
Turchynov said authorities were also increasing security around Ukrainian nuclear facilities, airports, and other “strategic” facilities. He said there was no justification for what he called Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said any military intervention by Russia would mark the beginning of “war.”
The United States condemned Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory, and called on Russia to withdraw its forces back to bases in Crimea.
The White House said President Barack Obama had a 90-minute phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he said the appropriate way to address any concerns “is peacefully through direct engagement” with the Ukrainian government and international mediating bodies.
It also warned that continued violation of international law by Moscow would lead to further “political and economic isolation.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, that “Russia risks further instability in the region, isolation in the international community and an escalation that would threaten European and international security.”
Addressing an emergency session of the UN Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called for the “immediate deployment” of OSCE and UN observers to Ukraine to try to defuse the tensions there.
“It is time for the Russian intervention in Ukraine to end,” Power said.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev called on the Security Council to “do everything possible” to stop Russian “aggression.”
Earlier, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called the Federation Council vote “an unwarranted escalation of tensions.” She called on Russia not to dispatch troops, but to promote its views through “peaceful means.”
EU foreign ministers are to hold urgent talks on the Ukrainian crisis on March 3.
Separately, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s main political decision-making body, to discuss the situation in Ukraine on Sunday.
Rasmussen made the announcement on Twitter, saying: “Urgent need for de-escalation in Crimea.” “Russia must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, & borders,” he added.
Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski said earlier his country “could feel threatened by a potential Russian military intervention” in neighboring Ukraine.
Britain, Germany, and France have also expressed concern over the vote by the Russian upper house to approve Russian military action in Ukraine
In a written statement, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had summoned the Russian ambassador to London to express Britain’s concerns over what he called a “potentially grave threat” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was following developments with concern.
The spokesman added Merkel had spoken by telephone to new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Britain and Germany were among the European Union powers that joined the United States in supporting the pro-European movement that toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
The White House said the United States, France, and Canada’s leaders “pledged to work together on a package of support and assistance” to Ukraine and also “agreed to continue to coordinate closely, including bilaterally, and through appropriate international organizations.”
Both the United States and Canada suspended their engagements in preparations for the G-8 Summit, currently planned for Sochi.
The Canadian ambassador in Moscow is being recalled for consultations.
The spokesman added that Putin had made no decision in response to a request by lawmakers to recall the Russian ambassador to the United States to protest warnings from Washington against any Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said Russia had sent 6,000 additional troops into Crimea, along with 30 armored personnel carriers, since February 28. He called this a blatant violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity.
In the past week, Crimea and other parts of eastern Ukraine have seen mass protest both in support of and against Russia.
In the eastern city of Kharkiv, pro-Russian demonstrators took over the regional administration building, forcing their way in after firing tear gas and breaking windows.
A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in Kharkiv said he was attacked by pro-Russian activists on March 1 while conducting a live video report from the building. The attackers accused him of doing “wrong coverage.”
The correspondent, who does not want to be identified, said he was beaten and forced to kneel and kiss Russian symbols. The attack was stopped by the chairwoman of the Communist Party branch in Kharkiv, Alla Aleksandrovska. The journalist has reported the incident to the police.
The new pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, Serhiy Aksyonov, has asked for help from Russia to restore calm after anti-Russian protesters stormed the Crimean parliament on February 26.
Aksyonov on March 1 also said he was, temporarily, taking personal control of Ukrainian military and police forces based in Crimea.
Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has issued a decree rejecting as illegal Aksyonov’s appointment on February 27.