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 he 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 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 about Ukraine’s future, evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship.
After Russia’s parliament approved Putin’s motion, U.S. officials had a high-level meeting at the White House to review Russia’s military moves in Ukraine. Obama also spoke with Putin by telephone.
The Kremlin website said Putin told Obama that Russia might send its troops not only to Crimea but all of predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine because of “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.
The U.N. Security Council met in an open, televised session for about a half an hour Saturday afternoon after closed-door consultations, despite initial objections from Russia to an open session.
The council heard speeches from a U.N. deputy secretary-general and several ambassadors, but did not take any action.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.N. Yuriy Sergeyev asked the Security Council “to do everything possible now” to stop what he called Russian “aggression.”
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said the government in Kiev needs to get away from “radicals” and warned “such actions they’re taking could lead to very difficult developments, which the Russian Federation is trying to avoid.”
He said Russia was intervening at the request of pro-Russian authorities in the autonomous Crimea region that is part of Ukraine.