Russian President Vladimir Putin moved to officially deploy Russian troops in Ukraine Saturday, defying warnings not to intervene issued a day earlier by his U.S. and other western counterparts.
Though a major escalation in the openness of Russia’s commitment, Saturday’s move comes as Russian troops and their local allies have already largely taken control of Crimea, a restive province of Ukraine that belonged to Russia until 1954 and remains predominantly pro-Russian.
Heavily armed troops, many from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, surrounded key facilities across the region in the last day. The newly installed pro-Russian leader of Crimea Saturday formally asked Russia to deploy its troops to help secure the region.
Sergei Aksyonov, who was appointed prime minster of Crimea after armed men took over the regional parliament this week, said troops from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet are guarding vital facilities in the region and helping with patrols to ensure public order. Mr. Aksyonov, who is pro-Russian, said he was taking command of the peninsula’s police and army.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday accused the government in Kiev of trying to destabilize the region and directing gunmen to capture Crimea’s ministry of internal affairs building overnight. It said the attack, which couldn’t be verified, was averted with “decisive action.”
Five people who live in the buildings next to the Interior Ministry in Simferopol that was allegedly attacked said everything was peaceful last night and they heard nothing. There were no signs of struggle at the building complex, where no windows or gates were damaged.
Friday, armed men surrounded Crimea’s two main airports, took command of its state television network and set up checkpoints along the key roads connecting the peninsula to the rest of Ukraine. On Saturday, professional military men in unmarked green camouflage uniforms—the same fatigues as the armed men wore Friday—appeared outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol.
Ukrainian officials say the well-equipped men–many of whom carry sophisticated automatic weapons–are Russian soldiers. U.S. President Barack Obama has publicly warned Russia, saying there would be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.