With files from the Canadian Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country's military in Ukraine, moving to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea.
Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kyiv.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily.
"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine's strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature's upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution. The rubber-stamp parliament is certain to approve it in a vote expected Saturday.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighbouring Slavic countries.
It was the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.
Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications centre in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to intervene on the strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.
Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.
Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region will answer only to his orders.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Kyiv, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.
"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."
Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbour, which is undergoing political upheaval.
He said such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.
"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said. He did not say what those costs might be.
At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea.
He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units.
Russia has kept silent on claims of military intervention and has said any troop movements are within agreed rules, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea.
Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.
9. p.m. Friday Feb. 28 - story by Jo Slade
Ukraine's new government has declared that Russian troops have invaded their country.
Amid the mounting tensions, President Obama expressed deep concern over reports of Russian military movements within Ukraine.
Ukraine's acting president has accused Russia of sending troops into Crimea and trying to provoke Kiev into war.
Obama stated, "Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilising, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe," he said.
He added, "Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And, indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."
He did not say what, if any, action would be taken by the United States.
More to come.