As Russian soldiers walked one way in the distance, a departing Ukrainian soldier carried some of his belongings Friday at a military base in Perevalne, Crimea.
(Ivan Sekretarev/AP)
March 21, 2014

Split Decisions: Ukraine Signs Up With EU, Russia Wraps Up Crimea

There will be few days that better symbolize the crisis in Ukraine.

On Friday:

As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was signing an agreement on closer relations with the European Union ...

... Russian President Vladimir Putin was signing the laws his country has put in place to take Crimea from Ukraine and make it part of the Russian Federation.

Ukraine's pact with the EU, as CNN notes, has "symbolic force because it was the decision of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in November to ditch it in favor of closer ties with Russia that triggered the protests that spiraled into the current crisis."

The BBC says that "the EU Association Agreement is designed to give Ukraine's interim leadership under PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk economic and political support. EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement that the accord 'recognises the aspirations of the people of Ukraine to live in a country governed by values, by democracy and the rule of law.' "

But, as CNN adds, "Russia's moves to annex Crimea, following a contested weekend referendum in the Black Sea peninsula, have turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War." The U.S. and EU nations say the annexation violates both international and Ukrainian law.

Meanwhile, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London that the EU has added 12 names to its list of Russian and Ukrainian officials who it says were involved in interfering in Ukraine's affairs. Those officials are now subject to "visa restrictions and asset freezes," Ari says. Twenty-one officials were put on the EU's list earlier this week.

On Thursday, President Obama announced that the U.S. had increased the number of Russians and Ukrainians on its sanctions list to 31. The Russian government responded by barring nine Americans — including six members of Congress — from traveling to Russia. Putin has spoken about taking more steps.

Ukraine has said it will withdraw its troops and sailors from Crimea. Russian forces, along with local "self-defense" units, have taken control of many bases there and other strategic locations. On Friday, the BBC reports, families of Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea were seen departing from bases.

Also Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Kiev. Ban, who is trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, was in Moscow on Thursday. "I have emphasized that all parties (should) refrain from any hasty or provocative actions that could further exacerbate the already very tense and very volatile situation," he said after meeting with Putin.

Background

As the crisis in Ukraine has developed over recent weeks, we've tracked developments. Here's a recap:

Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Yanukovych have spread.

Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:

Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine's Latest Hot Spot

Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

Why Ukraine Is Such A Big Deal For Russia

Shortly after Yanukovych was deposed and fled Ukraine, Russia moved to take control of Crimea by sending thousands of troops there to secure strategic locations. Along with "local defense forces," those soldiers surrounded Ukrainian military facilities.

This week, after Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex the region. The U.S. and European Union have objected, calling that action a violation of international law. Putin says he is supporting Crimeans' right to "self-determination."

We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."

It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.


March 20, 2014

U.S. To Impose Sanctions On More Russian Officials

More senior Russian officials are being added to the list of those who the U.S. will seek to penalize for their nation's interference in Ukraine's affairs, President Obama announced Thursday morning.

Without giving specifics, Obama said that additional officials who played a role in Russia's "illegal move" to annex Crimea will be subject to U.S. financial sanctions and travel bans. According to the Treasury Department, 20 individuals are covered by the new sanctions. Their names are listed here. Also on the list: one financial institution, Bank Rossiya.

Earlier, sanctions were aimed at 11 individuals — most of them Russians, but also including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Obama also warned that the U.S. is prepared to, if necessary, impose sanctions on "key sectors of the Russian economy," a step that could further ratchet up tensions between the two nations.

"Nation's do not simply redraw borders or make decisions at the expense of their neighbors simply because they are larger or more powerful," Obama said, and "Russia most know that."

This latest development related to the crisis in Ukraine follows the dramatic steps taken this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who moved to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation after citizens there voted to break away from the rest of Ukraine.

Russian troops, along with local self-defense forces, moved to take control of Crimea shortly after last month's toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin's.

Background

As the crisis in Ukraine has developed over recent weeks, we've tracked developments. Here's a recap:

Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Yanukovych have spread.

Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:

Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine's Latest Hot Spot

Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

Why Ukraine Is Such A Big Deal For Russia

Shortly after Yanukovych was deposed and fled Ukraine, Russia moved to take control of Crimea by sending thousands of troops there to secure strategic locations. Along with "local defense forces," those soldiers surrounded Ukrainian military facilities.

This week, after Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex the region. The U.S. and European Union have objected, calling that action a violation of international law. Putin says he is supporting Crimeans' right to "self-determination."

We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."

It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.


Armed men stood atop a chimney near Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Wednesday. They raised Russian flags after taking over much of the facility.
(Vasily Fedosenko /Reuters /Landov)
March 19, 2014

Tensions Build As Pro-Russia Forces Enter Ukrainian Navy Base

There's another potentially dangerous situation developing in Crimea, where Russian flags have been raised at Ukraine's naval headquarters in the port of Sevastopol.

NPR's Gregory Warner, who is in Sevastopol, reports that a large group of armed men entered the base early Wednesday. It couldn't immediately be confirmed whether they were members of a pro-Russia militia, Russian soldiers or perhaps a combination of the two. As of midday in Crimea, there were no reports of shots being fired. CBS News writes that "the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet was seen arriving at the base for talks. Ukrainian sailors were seen filing out of the base shortly after, carrying bags full of their belongings."

This follows Tuesday's shooting at a Ukrainian military base near the Crimean city of Simferopol. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and another was wounded. It isn't clear who fired the shots, but Crimean officials have said they believe it was members of a local militia group and that some of them have been taken into custody by Russian soldiers.

These incidents come after Tuesday's move by Russia to annex Crimea — an act that Ukraine's new government and its allies from the U.S. and European Union say they won't recognize and that has prompted sanctions aimed at hurting some Russian officials financially.

As Gregory adds, Russian officials have given the Ukrainian military a deadline of Friday to pull out of Crimea or defect and join the Russian army. It isn't clear what will happen if Ukraine doesn't comply. So far, the new government in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has declined to order its troops to leave the region.

As the crisis in Ukraine has developed over recent weeks, we've tracked developments. Here's a recap:

Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have spread.

Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:

Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine's Latest Hot Spot

Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

Why Ukraine Is Such A Big Deal For Russia

We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."

It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.


President Barack Obama
(Susan Walsh/AP)
March 17, 2014

US Announces Sanctions Against Russian Officials

President Barack Obama is imposing sanctions against Russian officials after Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine.

Obama's executive order issued Monday names seven Russian government officials. The United States also says it identifies and targets the assets of other individuals who aren't government officials but are supporting them.

The Treasury Department also is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians, including former President Viktor Yanukovych and two Crimea-based separatist leaders.

The U.S. announcement came shortly after the European Union announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people.

The sanctions were expected after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly Sunday in favor of the split.


People in Simferopol, Ukraine, attend a pro-Russian rally in Lenin Square after a day of voting on whether to unite with Russia. Exit polls show strong approval for the move, according to Russian state-run media.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
March 16, 2014

Crimea: Exit Polls Support Split From Ukraine To Join Russia

Russian news services are claiming overwhelming support in Crimea for the region's plan to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, citing exit polls from Sunday's referendum.

Russia's state news agency reports that 93 percent of voters said they were in favor of joining Russia.

Residents of Crimea voted on the contentious question in a referendum that also offered the option of remaining part of Ukraine, with increased autonomy.

Polls closed Sunday evening after a day of reportedly high turnout. Preliminary results aren't expected to be announced until late Sunday or Monday. Russian lawmakers and other officials are being quoted saying that they will work to absorb Crimea very quickly, perhaps by the end of March.

Pro-Ukrainian activists inside Crimea had urged a boycott of the vote, NPR's Gregory Warner reports, saying it was called prematurely and without debate. And as Gregory notes in a post for our Parallels blog, some of those who boycotted did so by staying home and making dumplings.

The referendum had widely been expected to pass; Crimea's parliament has already voted to seek annexation by Russia. Government officials in Ukraine, the U.S. and elsewhere say they consider the referendum illegitimate.

Update at 3 p.m. ET: The Polls Are Closed; 93 Percent Approval Cited

"A total of 93 percent of participants in the referendum in Crimea have voted for the accession to Russia," reports Russia's state-run Itar-Tass news agency, "according to an exit poll conducted by the Crimean Institute for Political and Sociological Studies."

The exit poll used data from 200 polling stations, the agency says.

Moments after Crimea's polls closed, the White House issued a statement rejecting today's vote, saying that it runs contrary to Ukraine's constitution.

"Russia's actions are dangerous and destabilizing," the statement said.

Update at 10 a.m. ET: Putin Defends Referendum

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Sunday's vote, with state-run Itar-Tass news agency reporting that he called the referendum "in compliance with the norms of international law, in particular with Article 1 of the UN Charter that stipulates the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples."

Itar-Tass cites the Kremlin press service in its report. Putin's comments reportedly came during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the two leaders discussed the crisis in Ukraine.

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET: Ukraine And Russia Reportedly In 'Truce'

With tensions escalating over the future of Crimea, Ukraine's acting defense minister says his country has reached a truce with Russia that will hold in Crimea until Friday.

Reuters quotes Ihor Tenyukh speaking to reporters at a cabinet meeting in Kiev Sunday:

"An agreement has been reached with [Russia's] Black Sea Fleet and the Russian Defense Ministry on a truce in Crimea until March 21.

"No measures will be taken against our military facilities in Crimea during that time. Our military sites are therefore proceeding with a replenishment of reserves."

Freelance journalist Paul Brennan, who is in Kiev, says that while the minister discussed the truce before the Cabinet met, he "strangely didn't mention it in his address to full Cabinet."

Speculation over the reported truce includes the idea that it might imply a promise to allow Ukrainians to withdraw from pro-Russian areas.

Election staff begin to count votes at a polling station in Bachchisaray, in Crimea, Ukraine, Sunday. Crimeans voted to decide whether the peninsula will break away from mainland Ukraine. The referendum has been dismissed as illegal by the West. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
 

Update at 8:30 a.m. ET: High Turnout At The Polls

More than 43 percent of Crimea's residents have voted, says Mikhail Malyshev, who heads Crimea's Supreme Council's commission, which organized the referendum.

That's according to a report from Sevastopol by NPR's Jessica Golloher.

"Malyshev says some 64 percent of the largest city in Crimea, Kerch, have voted and around 40 percent of Yaltans have cast their ballots," Jessica says. "International vote monitor Enrique Ravello of Spain also says turnout is high."

Update at 3:50 a.m. ET: Voter Enthusiasm

Voters lined up before polls opened and more than 70 people surged in during the first 15 minutes in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where Russia maintains its Black Sea fleet, according to the Associated Press.

"Today is a holiday," said one voter, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: "I want to go home to Russia, it's been so long since I've seen my mama," the AP said.

Our original post continues:

The Crimean Peninsula is predominantly ethnic Russian, and residents say they fear being oppressed by the interim Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. Yanukovych fled to Russia after months of protest and bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the voters' decision. The U.S. and EU have warned that annexation would prompt more economic sanctions against Russia.

On Saturday, Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning today's vote, the only Security Council member to vote against the measure. China, also a member of the Security Council and often an ally of Russia, abstained from the vote, in what the AP calls "a sign of Moscow's isolation on the issue."

Russian troops have taken control of government buildings and military bases in Crimea since Yanukovych fled. On Saturday, Russian troops made what was apparently their first foray outside Crimea, crossing the border to take over a natural gas plant that serves the region.


Armed men, believed to be Russian troops, walk outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, on Friday.
(Vasily Fedosenko /Reuters/Landov)
March 14, 2014

U.S., Russia Talk As Crisis In Ukraine Nears New Flash Point

While Crimeans prepare to vote Sunday on whether to join the Russian Federation, Secretary of State John Kerry is in London for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

As NPR's Ari Shapiro tells our Newscast Desk, Kerry is looking for a way to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

The BBC adds that Kerry is expected to warn Lavrov "that the disputed referendum being held in Crimea in two days and Russia's military intervention there could trigger concerted U.S. and EU sanctions."

Indeed, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reported on Thursday, Kerry says that if Russia doesn't help resolve the crisis, "there will be a very serious series of steps Monday in Europe" and the U.S.

Those steps could include economic sanctions and additional travel restrictions on any officials believed to have been responsible for Russian intervention in Ukraine.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Gregory Warner reported from Crimea about the scene there in advance of Sunday's vote. He reports having seen dozens of armored personnel carriers, fuel supply trucks and military satellite systems near the region's border with the rest of Ukraine.

Gregory notes that Crimeans will be asked to vote on two questions Sunday: whether to join the Russian Federation; or whether to stay part of Ukraine but revert to an earlier constitution that gave them even more autonomy and the chance for dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship.

Also on Morning Edition, NPR's Peter Kenyon reported about the concerns that Crimea's Tatars have over the pro-Russian sentiment in the region.

Need a refresher on what this crisis is all about?

As we've previously said, Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have spread.

Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:

Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine's Latest Hot Spot

Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

Why Ukraine Is Such A Big Deal For Russia

We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."

It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.


Russian President Vladimir Putin during his news conference Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
(Alexei Nikolsky/AP)
March 04, 2014

Putin Says Those Aren't Russian Forces In Crimea

Russian soldiers have not occupied government buildings and surrounded Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Tuesday during a news conference near Moscow at which he gave an account of recent events that contradicts reports from the ground.

Instead, he told reporters that the heavily armed men are "local self-defense forces."

What's more, anything Russia has done, Putin said without offering specifics, has been part of a "humanitarian mission" to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea.

But even as he said no Russian troops have been involved in the latest events in Crimea, Putin drew comparisons that would seem to indicate they had been. "Our actions are often described by the West as not legitimate, but look at U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya," he said, according to a BBC translation of his comments. "Our actions are legitimate from the point of view of international law, because Ukraine's legitimate president asked us for help. ... Defending these people is in our interests. ... We do not want to 'enslave' anyone."

Putin made the claims about a lack of involvement by Russian forces even though Russian military helicopters have been seen in the skies over Crimea, Russian trucks have been seen moving the armed men to key locations, and the soldiers in unmarked uniforms speak Russian and in some cases have told reporters and local residents that they are members of the Russian military.

The Guardian, BBC News and Reuters live-blogged as Putin spoke. Among the highlights:

— Is Putin concerned about a war breaking out? "No, because we will not go to war with the Ukrainian people." (The Guardian)

— Does he think ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia last week, has a political future? No, "and I have told this to him. ... He would have been killed in Ukraine had we not helped him." (BBC News)

— Sanctions against Russia would make matters worse. "All threats against Russia are counterproductive and harmful," Putin said, while adding that Russia is ready to host the G-8 summit in June — but if Western leaders do not want to come, "they don't need to." (Reuters)

— Russia is not going to try to annex Crimea, Putin said. (BBC News)

The Russian leader's news conference followed word from Moscow that "tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine's border" are returning to their bases.

That's being taken "generally as a good sign," NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is in Crimea, said on Morning Edition.

There was also no "military storm" — a rumored attack by Russian forces — Tuesday morning.

But the rumors about a possible Russian attack had been debunked earlier. As for the order for troops taking part in exercises on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine to return to their bases, New York Times correspondent Steven Lee Myers pointed out on Morning Edition that those exercises had already been scheduled to end today.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Kiev today for talks with officials from the interim government that replaced the Yanukovych regime. He arrives, the White House says in a statement released early Tuesday, with the news that the Obama administration "is working with Congress and the government of Ukraine to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees aimed at helping insulate vulnerable Ukrainians from the effects of reduced energy subsidies."

Although the situation in Crimea has been tense since the armed men showed up Friday to surround military bases and take over some strategic locations, there has been no serious violence. Ukrainian forces have stayed in their barracks. The only confrontation reported so far came Tuesday, when some of the armed men fired warning shots in the air after Ukrainian military personnel — who weren't armed — tried to enter an airfield that has been taken over.

We've previously summed up what sparked months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal last month:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."


Armed men outside Ukrainan military unit
(Maxim Shipenkov/EPA/LANDOV)
March 03, 2014

Russia Denies Issuing Ultimatum Or Warning Ukraine Of 'Storm'

Any claims that the Russian military has warned Ukraine to surrender in Crimea or face an assault on Tuesday are "total nonsense," a Russian Defense Ministry official says, according to The Voice of Russia.

The unidentified official turned the accusation back at Ukraine, saying that "we are used to daily accusations about using force against our Ukrainian colleagues. ... Efforts to make us clash won't work."

As we said earlier, accounts often vary in situations such as this when news is breaking. We'll keep an eye out for changes in the story.

Our original post — Reports: Russia Issues Ultimatum, Warns Ukraine Of 'Storm':

Russia has reportedly given Ukraine an ultimatum — surrender Crimea by early Tuesday morning or face a full-on military assault across the strategically important peninsula.

The exact wording of the warning varies by news outlet, most likely because of differences in translations:

Russia has reportedly given Ukraine an ultimatum — surrender Crimea by early Tuesday morning or face a full-on military assault across the strategically important peninsula.

The exact wording of the warning varies by news outlet, most likely because of differences in translations:

— "Russia Delivers 'Assault Storm' Deadline." (Sky News)

— "Russia has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in the Crimea to clear out by 5 a.m. Tuesday or face a 'military storm.'  (CNN)

— "Surrender or Face 'Storm,' Russia Reportedly Tells Ukraine." (NBC News)

The headlines stem from a report from the InterFax news agency, part of which is here. InterFax, in turn, says it's citing Ukrainian defense ministry sources.

As always in situations such as this when news is breaking and accounts may vary, we'll keep an eye out for changes in the story.

Meanwhile, "Russia's foreign minister said Monday that the decision to dispatch troops to Ukraine is not an act of aggression, but a measure aimed at protecting human rights and Russian citizens," RIA Novisti reports.

Diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and other nations say, however, that Russia has trampled on the sovereign rights of another nation by sending its forces into Crimea after Ukraine's pro-Russian president was removed from office by his nation's parliament.

Up to now, there have been no reports of shots fired or confrontations involving troops as Russian forces have moved to surround Ukrainian military bases and occupy other strategic places in Crimea.

Earlier, we posted about how:

"With Russian forces now effectively in control on the Crimean Peninsula, there's an ominous question on the minds of people around the world:

"Will President Vladimir Putin go further — sending his troops into other parts of Ukraine?"

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama says Russia is "on the wrong side of history'' in Ukraine and its actions violate international law.
 
Obama told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday that the United States is considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate Russia. The president called on Congress to work on an aid package to Ukraine and make it the "first order of business.''
 
Obama said continued military actions in Ukraine "will be a costly proposition for Russia.''


Ukrainian military personnel stand guard in the Crimean port city of Feodosia on Sunday. Ukraine is mobilizing for war, calling up reserve troops.
(Thomas Peter/Reuters/Landov)
March 02, 2014

Ukraine Warns Russia: Two Sides On 'Brink Of Disaster'

Ukraine's new government warned Russia on Sunday that the two countries "are on the brink of disaster" after an incursion by Moscow's forces into the Crimea peninsula that has sparked a rapidly escalating international crisis.

Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops.

"There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kiev. He called Russia's military intervention a "declaration of war" against his country.

Yatsenyuk's remarks came as the U.S. and European leaders stepped up their denunciations of Moscow's move to seize Crimea — an autonomous region that remains home to Russia's Black Sea fleet despite Ukrainian independence in 1991. There are also reports that partisans, possibly aided by Moscow, are fomenting unrest in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east.

The stunning military incursion that began on Thursday follows last week's ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych after months of anti-government demonstrations opposing his vision for the country's economic and political future. Yanukovych, who subsequently fled to Russia, had sought to keep close ties with the Kremlin, while many Ukrainians believe they need to look west toward Europe.

On Saturday, Russian lawmakers approved an appeal from Putin to authorize the use of force in Ukraine until such time that "the political situation is normalized" in what amounted to a justification for the troops already sent and a blank check for any future deployments.

Ukraine's new and untested government, still finding its feet after barely a week in power, has responded with a nationwide mobilization of troops. NPR's Emily Harris, reporting from Kiev, says:

"No Ukrainian troops are marching, but reservists are being called to register at military offices. ... Meanwhile, Ukraine's parliament approved a 10-point decree in an emergency session on Sunday that calls for troops from Russia's Black Sea fleet to go back to where they are permitted by treaty to be in Crimea — and appeals directly to Putin to not allow Russian forces into Ukraine."

The BBC adds that the decree authorizes "full combat readiness," the setting up of emergency headquarters and increased security at key sites, including nuclear plants.

On the ground in Ukraine, the military situation is confusing, but the BBC reports seeing what appear to be Russian troops digging trenches along the Crimean border — a possible signal that Moscow does not intend a quick withdrawal.

There were reports that about 100 Ukrainian marines were surrounded on Sunday in the Crimean port city of Feodosia by unidentified armed men who have demanded that the garrison pledge loyalty to pro-Russian authorities.

The BBC also reports that:

"[Two] Russian anti-submarine warships have appeared off the coast of Crimea in violation of an agreement governing the presence of Russia's Fleet in the peninsula."

"Russian soldiers are widely reported to be guarding a number of administrative buildings and military bases in Crimea. Parliament, airports, the state television building and telecommunications hubs have also been surrounded."

Reuters reports that Ukrainian coast guard ships were being withdrawn from Crimea and moved to safer Black Sea ports.

Meanwhile, NATO's North Atlantic Council, the alliance's political decision-making body and the NATO-Ukraine Commission, were meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allies will "coordinate closely" on the situation in Ukraine, which he termed "grave."

"What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations charter. It threatens peace and security in Europe," Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO ambassadors, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday echoed President Obama's reported comments in a 90-minute phone call to Putin. Kerry called Russia's intervention in Crimea a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty "in full contravention of Russia's obligations."

On Sunday, Kerry told the CBS program Face the Nation that Russia's actions are an "incredible act of aggression" that threatened "very serious repercussions" from the Washington.

"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pre-text,"Kerry said.


January 22, 2014

Snowden Says Allegations He Received Russian Help Are 'Absurd'

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says that when he leaked classified documents about some of the United States' most sensitive surveillance programs, he did so alone and without any help.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Snowden called whispers that he received help from Russia's security service "absurd."

He told the magazine that he "clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government." He continued, "It won't stick. ... Because it's clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are."

As we reported over the weekend, Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, strongly implied that Snowden had help from the Russians not only to travel to that country, where Snowden received temporary asylum, but to also steal the information to begin with.

"There's a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow," Rogers said. "I don't think that's a coincidence."

Rogers offered no evidence for his statements.

Snowden said the allegations made no sense.

Had he been spying for Russia, Snowden said, he never would have made a stop in Hong Kong and he certainly wouldn't have spent 40 days at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.

"Spies get treated better than that," he told the magazine.


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