Crimea leader calls on Putin for help as Ukraine crisis deepens
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (CNN) — The new pro-Russian leader of Ukraine’s southern Crimea region said Saturday he had taken temporary control of its security apparatus and asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in maintaining peace.
Sergey Aksyonov, who was installed as the region’s premier Thursday after armed men took over the Crimean parliament building, said security forces currently “are unable to efficiently control the situation in the republic,” speaking on Russian state broadcaster Russia 24.
Consequently, he said, he was taking charge. “All commanders shall follow only my orders and instructions, and I ask those who disagree to retire from service,” he said.
“I am appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide assistance in ensuring peace and accord on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.”
A Kremlin spokesman said Russia “will not disregard” Aksyonov’s request for help “in maintaining peace and accord in Crimea.”
The latest development comes as the newly appointed interim government in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, seeks to prevent tensions in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula with a majority-Russian population, escalating into a full-blown bid for separation.
Ukraine suspects Russia of fomenting separatist tensions in the autonomous region.
The crisis in Crimea has echoed round the world, with the U.N. Security Council president holding a private meeting about the crisis enveloping Ukraine on Friday and world leaders calling on armed groups not to attempt to challenge Ukrainian sovereignty.
Ukraine on Friday accused Russian Black Sea forces of trying to seize two airports in Crimea but said Ukrainian security forces prevented them from taking control.
Mysterious groups of armed men, dressed in uniforms without identifying insignia, patrolled the airports in the regional capital, Simferopol, and the nearby port city of Sevastopol, where Russia has a major military base for its Black Sea fleet.
Initially operations were not affected but later in the day the airspace above the Crimea was closed. The armed men remained at the airports Saturday.
Yevgey Plaksin, director of the airport in the regional capital, Simferopol, said Crimean airspace would remain closed until Saturday evening local time.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaliy Churkin, compared the reports of Russian troops taking charge of positions on the ground to rumors that “are always not true.”
“We are acting within the framework of our agreement,” he said.
Obama: Warning to Russia
The United States urged Russia on Friday to pull back from the region or face possible consequences.
“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside Ukraine,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in televised comments from the White House.
“…It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws.”
Obama said any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be “deeply destabilizing, and he warned “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
The country, which is sandwiched between Europe and Russia’s western border, has been plunged into chaos since the ouster a week ago of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
He resurfaced Friday in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where he said he had not been overthrown and vowed to fight on for Ukraine’s future.
CNN’s Victoria Eastwood and Diana Magnay reported from Simferopol, Ukraine, Ingrid Formanek from Kiev, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Alla Eshchenko, Arkady Irshenko and journalist Azad Safarov contributed to this report.
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