Russia Approves Use of Troops in Ukraine

MOSCOW — Russian parliament's upper house unanimously approved the deployment of troops in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Saturday, in what one lawmaker insisted was a peacekeeping mission.

"There's not going to be any war ... This will be done by those (Ukrainians and Russians) who live there." Valery Ryazansky, chairman of the Federation Council committee on social welfare, said shortly after speaking in favor of the decision at the hearing. "We have waited long and patiently hoping that Ukraine could manage on its own. But unfortunately it's become clear that without this help and support they cannot manage."

The snap hearing, in which senators did not debate or question the proposal, came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin —ignoring a warning issued by President Obama a day earlier — asked parliament for permission to use military force in Ukraine due to the "extraordinary situation" there. Putin said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and personnel at a Russian military base in Crimea.

Lawmakers also recommended Putin recall the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in response to Obama's Friday evening speech, where he said the U.S. remained "deeply concerned" about reports that Russian troops had entered Ukraine.

Meanwhile, senior Ukrainian politician Vitali Klitschko called for a "general mobilization" in the country Saturday.

"Parliament must request the army chief to mobilize following Russian aggression against Ukraine," Klitschko said in a statement.

Earlier Saturday, Crimea's pro-Russia leader Sergei Askenov declared himself in charge of all security services and made a direct appeal to Moscow.

"I appeal to the president of Russia Vladimir Putin for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea," Aksenov said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

In Kiev, the interim government that replaced exiled President Viktor Yanukovych said Russia is violating its sovereignty.

"We demand that the Russian government and authorities recall their troops and return them to their bases," interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Saturday in remarks published by Interfax, Ukraine's official agency.

"There is inappropriate presence of Russian military servicemen in Crimea now. This is nothing but a violation of the basic provisions of the agreement on the Russian Black Sea Fleet's temporary presence on the Ukrainian territory," Yatseniuk said.

Meanwhile, Washington continued to call for mediation to defuse the crisis.

"The United States calls for an urgent international mediation mission to the Crimea to begin to de-escalate the situation, and facilitate productive and peaceful political dialogue among all Ukrainian parties," Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in New York.

Ukraine closed its airspace over Crimea on Saturday after border officials said at least eight Russian transport planes landed Friday at a military base, delivering unknown goods and personnel. Ukraine's Crimea province has an ethnic Russian majority and hosts the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet.

All flights to and from the provincial capital of Simferopol were canceled a day after unidentified gunmen — suspected to be Russian forces — took over the region's main airport and a military airport outside the naval city of Sevastopol.

There are also reports the soldiers at the airport could be private contractors working for Russia's interior ministry, thereby offering a loophole as Russia says its forces haven't intervened.

Andriy Ignatov, a Ukrainian in Crimea told Kyiv Post that the troops are facing no resistance by local residents but aren't being feted either.

"I see no enthusiasm for the arrival of the troops, maybe because they have no insignias," he told the newspaper. "There's no cheering crowds, no flowers. The attitude is pretty much, 'let's go with the flow.'"

There is concern about what's happens next, he added. "People ask, 'Are we going to be part of Russia now? Well, then, OK, as long as there's no fighting.'"

Regardless, the situation was tense in the region as Aksionov reassured local residents that he had the situation was under control. Most residents of the Black Sea peninsula have linguistic and cultural ties to Russia with a clear majority self-identifying as ethnic Russia.

"The authorities are at their desks working," he said at a meeting televised state broadcaster, Krym TV. "We guarantee the people, irrespective of their ethnic background, a sober, realistic and just approach in resolving their issues. I am especially addressing the Crimean Tatars: I assure you that nothing threatens you."


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