KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country’s military in Ukraine, moving to formalize troop deployments that Ukrainian officials have described as an ongoing invasion of the strategic region of Crimea.
Putin’s motion loosely refers to the “territory of Ukraine” rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev. Pro-Russian protests were reported in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Odessa.
Ukrainian officials and some Western diplomats said that a Russian military intervention is already well underway after heavily armed gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of local government buildings, airports and other strategic facilities in Crimea in recent days.
The Russian parliament unanimously voted Saturday to grant President Vladimir Putin permission to mobilize the country's military in Ukraine and asked that the country's ambassador in Washington be recalled after earlier statements by President Obama.
Putin says the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine's strategic region of Crimea. But the request came a day after Obama warned Moscow that "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily in Ukraine.
"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 said before the vote.
Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and beat up supporters of the new Ukrainian government.
Russia's move sharply raised the stakes in the conflict following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia. Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" -- a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to intervene on the strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.
The move also appears to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea. His motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev.