01 March, 2014
Two pro-Europe demonstrators were beaten by pro-Russian protesters
Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved President Putin’s request for Russian forces to be used in Ukraine.
He had asked that Russian forces be used “until the normalisation of the political situation in the country”.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where many ethnic Russians live.
Kiev has reacted angrily to days of military movements in Crimea, accusing Moscow of trying to provoke the new government into an armed conflict.
Interim President Olexander Turchynov has called an emergency session of his security chiefs.
Meanwhile, big pro-Russian rallies have been held in several Ukrainian cities outside Crimea:
• In Donetsk, Mr Yanukovych’s traditional stronghold, demonstrators from a crowd of some 7,000 tried unsuccessfully to occupy the regional administration building, raising a Russian tricolour on a nearby flag-post
• In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, dozens of people were injured after scuffles between pro- and anti-Russian protesters broke out outside the regional administration building
• In Mariupol, in the south-east, hundreds of protesters carrying Russian flags gathered outside the city council in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin submitted the request for troops “in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens”, the Kremlin said.
The upper house went into a special session almost immediately after Mr Putin made the request, and swiftly approved it.
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, however, that this “does not mean that this right will be used quickly” to deploy troops.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “deeply concerned” by Moscow’s move and said he spoken to both his Russian counterpart and the Russian ambassador in London, urging them to calm the situation.
Top Ukrainian politician Vitali Klitschko has urged the interim government to declare a “national mobilisation”.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency session in the coming hours, and EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to discuss the situation.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow says it is potentially significant that Mr Putin’s request was for deployment in Ukraine as a whole, and not specifically for flashpoints such as Crimea.
Earlier, the lower house of parliament had urged the president to take whatever measures were necessary to “stabilise” the situation in Crimea.
During the upper house debate, one legislator accused US President Barack Obama of crossing “a red line” with his comments that there would be costs if Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine.
The upper house has recommended that the Russian ambassador to the US should be recalled, although the decision lies with Mr Putin.
The build-up of Russia’s military in Crimea was evident even before Saturday’s vote in Moscow to send extra troops
The presence of Russia has been welcomed by many of Crimea’s ethnic Russians
Pro-Russian populations in several eastern and southern cities across Ukraine took to the streets on Saturday to voice their opposition to the new interim government in Kiev
These activists in Donetsk tried to hoist the Russian flag over an administrative building
But the protests turned bloody in Kharkiv after these pro-Kiev activists clashed with Russian supporters who were trying to enter an administrative office
Meanwhile, in Kiev’s Independence Square, people gathered for the funeral of one of the 88 people killed in violent clashes with police that led to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych a week ago
President Putin’s request follow days of military activity in Crimea during which unidentified armed men moved in to take over the regional parliament, state television and telecommunications hubs.
Soldiers from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea, are reported to be guarding some administrative buildings and military bases.
Amid the closure of airspace over Crimea’s regional capital Simferopol on Friday evening, there were unconfirmed reports that Russian planes were flying in thousands of troops.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh said on Saturday there are now an extra 6,000 Russian troops in Crimea, alongside an additional 30 armoured vehicles.
Under the agreement governing the presence of the fleet in Crimea, the Russians must co-ordinate all troop movements outside the fleet’s base with the Ukrainian authorities beforehand.
The newly-elected pro-Moscow leader of Crimea, Sergiy Aksyonov, earlier said he had appealed to Mr Putin for help to ensure peace on the peninsula – a request which the Kremlin said it would “not leave unnoticed”.
Mr Aksyonov is not recognised by the new interim government in Kiev, which signed a decree on Saturday that his election this week was illegal.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also condemned as a “provocation” the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea and said “we demand that Russian soldiers return to their permanent bases”.
“We are taking no steps that could provoke a violent confrontation,” he said at his first cabinet meeting. “All responsibility for the escalation of the conflict lies personally at the leadership of the Russian Federation.”
US President Barack Obama said on Friday that “any violation of Ukraine sovereignty… would be deeply destabilising”.
He warned of the “costs” of any Russian intervention in the Ukraine and commended the interim government in Kiev for its “restraint”.