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Moscow Officially Approves Use of Military Force in Ukraine

Tensions in Ukraine deteriorate as over 6,000 Russian troops storm Crimea.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/1/2014, 7:57 PM / Last Update: 3/1/2014, 10:49 PM

Russian parliament issued a de facto​ military takeover of Crimea, Ukraine, on Saturday, according to the Washington Post, despite the US warning Moscow on Friday not to intervene in the embattled country. 

At least 6,000 Russian troops stormed Belbek airport in Crimea - a Russian area of Ukraine - on Friday, leaving the newly-elected Kiev government powerless to defend itself, according to multiple international media sources. Troops have also been fanning out over the central city of Simferopol, according to the New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin turned to the upper house of the Russian parliament Saturday to justify the takeover. 

“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 requested Saturday. The parliament unanimously approved the measure.

Kiev already accused Moscow Friday of a “military invasion and occupation” of the Crimea peninsula, the base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Armored vehicles from the Fleet were reportedly seen in the early stages of the Belbek takeover descending on the airport. In response, new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow “to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to Interfax

Unrest Snowballs

Pro-Russian demonstrations also broke out in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east earlier Saturday, where protesters raised Russian flags and beat up supporters of the new Ukrainian government.

Crimea, a semiautonomous region, became the heart of the pro-Russian movement after pro-Moscow prime minister Sergei Aksyonov called on the neighboring country for help "keeping the peace," according to the Post. The move sparked further tensions between the two countries, after acting Ukrainian President Olexander Turchynov called Aksyonov's election to the post "invalid" and warned Russia to keep its distance from the unrest. 

Ukrainian border patrol services have stepped up their presence along the Russian border due to the unrest, according to BBC. The group told Interfax news agency that "border control has been stepped up at the border checkpoints to look for extremists and extremist groups."

Far-right Freedom party has already declared the Russian military takeover "a terrorist act" and claimed that it has "taken over two million Ukrainians hostage," according to BBC. 

The International Response

The Washington Post notes that Putin has requested that Moscow recall its ambassador to Washington over the US's comments Friday. So far, the White House has remained silent throughout the Crimea crisis - prompting criticism from Senator John McCain. 

"Every moment that the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine," McCain Saturday, in comments quoted by BBC. "There is a range of serious options at our disposal at this time without the use of military force. I call on President Obama to rally our European and NATO allies to make clear what costs Russia will face for its aggression and to impose those consequences without further delay."

Meanwhile, EU ambassadors have called an emergency meeting in Brussels for Monday in response to the new developments in the crisis, according to Reuters. Angela Merkel called the situation "worrying" in a speech in Berlin Saturday and stressed the importance of maintaining Ukraine's "territorial integrity." 

Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague has already called the Russian ambassador to London "to register our deep concern" over the developments, according to Ahram Online.

The UN ambassador to Ukraine has also aborted his mission, according to BBC News, stating that tensions have made it impossible for him to get to the heart of the crisis unfolding in Crimea. The UN Security council is in the process of its second emergency meeting in 24 hours over the crisis.