– The toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych – an “anti-constitutional coup”. Pro-Russian forces fired shots in the air to keep Ukrainian troops at a distance. U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States is examining a series of economic and diplomatic steps to “isolate Russia. US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Kiev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, the BBC informs.
But Russia reserves the right to use “all means” to protect citizens in the east of the country, Mr Putin said. He denied Russian troops had besieged Ukrainians based in Crimea – they were pro-Russian “self-defence” forces.
Mr Putin called the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power”.
He said “militants” had plunged the country into “chaos”. He also said Ukrainian “nationalists” and “anti-Semites” were roaming the streets of Kiev and other cities. If Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine asked for Russia’s help then Moscow would respond, he said. “If we see this anarchy beginning in the eastern regions we reserve the right to use all means,” he said.
Hundreds of pro-Russian demonstrators have been rallying in Donetsk and other parts of eastern Ukraine, rejecting the new pro-Western leadership in Kiev.
Overnight tensions were especially high at Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, the Crimean port city which is the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Pro-Russian forces there fired shots in the air to keep Ukrainian troops at a distance. Now the Ukrainians are pulling back from the base, the BBC’s Mark Lowen reports from the scene.
Meanwhile, two Ukrainian warships are reported to be blocked by a Russian minesweeper in the port of Sevastopol.
Intense diplomatic efforts are under way to defuse the crisis.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Kiev to meet Ukraine’s new leaders and show support for the country’s sovereignty.
And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected to meet the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in the Spanish capital Madrid.
Ukraine says some 16,000 Russian troops have arrived in Crimea in recent days.
But Mr Putin insisted that pro-Russian “local forces of self-defence” – not Russian troops – were responsible for taking over official buildings in Crimea.
There is international concern about the economic fallout from the crisis. On Monday the rouble plunged to new lows against the dollar and euro, but global markets steadied on Tuesday.
An aide to Mr Putin said that if Washington imposed economic sanctions, Russia could refuse to repay loans to US banks.
Ukraine’s economy relies on Russian gas – and on Tuesday the head of Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom, Alexei Miller, said that from April Ukraine would no longer get discounted gas, because it had violated its agreements.
Referring to the overthrow of Mr Yanukovych, Mr Putin said the ousted leader had agreed to all of the opposition’s demands. He insisted that Mr Yanukovych was still the legitimate president, and accused the West of encouraging the street protests that had ousted him.
There were only three legal means to remove a president, he said: death, personal resignation or impeachment.
Mr Yanukovych fled to Russia, and Mr Putin told the news conference: “I don’t think he has a political future.” Russia had helped him for “humanitarian” reasons, he said, “otherwise he’d just have been killed”.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian troops taking part in military exercises near the Ukrainian border were ordered back to their bases Tuesday – but thousands of others remain in control of much of Crimea, CNN informs. Putin ordered the troops’ return after six days of snap exercises at Ukraine’s doorstep. Putin said the exercises, which began Wednesday, were long planned and had nothing to do with events in Ukraine.
Sergey Astahov, assistant to the head of the Ukraine Security Border Service, told CNN that Russian troops and vehicles still remain near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
On Tuesday, a team from the International Monetary Fund was also expected in Kiev to begin a fact-finding mission that will look at possible financial help and necessary reforms.
The Ukrainian parliament ratified an agreement Tuesday to receive loans from the European Union worth 610 million euros, the equivalent of nearly $839 million. The parliament is based in Kiev, where many emphasize ties to the West, as opposed to people in eastern Ukraine, where loyalty to Russia runs deep.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States is examining a series of economic and diplomatic steps to “isolate Russia,” and he called on Congress to work with his administration on an economic assistance package for Ukraine.
At least 700 Ukrainian soldiers and officers defected Tuesday, announcing their readiness to defend the population of Crimea, RIA Novosti said, citing a spokesman for the newly installed Crimean authority.
A reported ultimatum for Ukrainian forces to surrender to the Russian forces early Tuesday passed without incident, however.
A group of pro-Russian Cossacks in civilian dress attempted to attack the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol, Seleznyov said, but Ukrainian forces repelled the attack and no shots were fired, CNN further reports.
Crimean Tatar TV also aired footage of a confrontation that took place Tuesday between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian forces at Belbek Air Base, near Sevastopol.
The flagship of the Ukrainian navy’s Black Sea Fleet, the frigate Hetman Saraidachny, is headed back to the Black Sea, the Ukrainian Consulate in Istanbul said. Ukrainian nationals in Istanbul were expected to gather on the banks of the Bosporus later Tuesday to cheer the ship as it passes. Earlier Tuesday, two Russian warships steamed up the Bosporus toward the Black Sea.