The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 1, 2014

Russian troops take over Ukraine's Crimea region

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Russian troops took over Crimea as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to use the military to protect Russian interests in Ukraine. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the action by Russian troops based in the strategic region and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.

Putin sought and quickly got his parliament's approval to use its military to protect Russia's interests across Ukraine. But while sometimes-violent pro-Russian protests broke out Saturday in a number of Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine, Moscow's immediate focus appeared to be Crimea.

Tensions increased when Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, made a late night announcement that he had ordered the country's armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression."

Speaking live on Ukrainian TV, Turchynov said he had also ordered stepped up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

Ignoring President Barack Obama's warning Friday that "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, Putin sharply raised the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship.

After Russia's parliament approved Putin's motion, U.S. officials held a high-level meeting at the White House to review Russia's military moves in Ukraine. U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke with Putin by telephone.

The Kremlin website said Putin told Obama that Russian troops may send its troops not only to Crimea but all of predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine due to "the existence of real threats" to Russian citizens in Ukrainian territory.

"Vladimir Putin emphasized that, in the case of a further spread in violence in eastern regions and Crimea, Russia maintains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population that lives there," the statement on the website said.

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