March 2014 – SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — As Russian-backed armed forces effectively seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula on Saturday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia requested —and received — authorization from the Russian Senate to use military force in Ukraine. The actions signaled publicly for the first time the Kremlin’s readiness to intervene militarily in Ukraine, and it served as a blunt response to President Obama, who just hours earlier pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. Within hours after receiving Mr. Putin’s request, Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, voted to approve it, after a debate that warned of the apocalyptic consequences of failing to stop a fascist threat from spreading to Russia’s borders. The lawmaker’s direct considerable fury at President Obama and others in the West they accused of fomenting the upheaval in Ukraine. The vote was unanimous among the 90 members present for the debate, and it was clear that forces allied with Moscow were largely in control of the disputed peninsula. The region’s two main airports were closed, with civilian flights canceled, and were guarded by heavily armed men in military uniforms. Similar forces surrounded the regional Parliament building and the rest of the government complex in downtown Simferopol, the Crimean capital, as well as numerous other strategic locations, including communication hubs and a main bus station.
At the entrance to Balaklva, site of Ukrainian customs and border post near Sevastopol, the road was blocked by a long column of military vehicles bearing Russian license plates. The column, comprising 10 troops trucks with 30 soldiers in each, two military ambulances and five armored vehicles, was not moving. Troops, wearing masks and carrying automatic rifles, stood on the road keeping people away. Some 60 locals, all apparently ethnic Russians, were gathered in a nearby square waving Russian flags and shouting “Russia, Russia.” Just a few hours earlier on Saturday, the newly installed, pro-Russia prime minister of Crimea had declared that he was in sole control of the military and the police in the peninsula and he appealed to Mr. Putin for help in safeguarding the region. The prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, also said a public referendum on independence would be held on March 30. On a day of frayed nerves and set-piece political appeals that recalled ethnic conflicts of past decades in the former Soviet bloc — from the Balkans to the Caucasus — pro-Russian forces were said to have taken control of a government building in Kharkiv, and a crowd in the center of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and pulled down the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and raised a Russian one. On Friday, officials in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev had accused Russian armed forces of invading Crimea and violating Ukraine’s sovereign territory, and President Obama pointedly warned Russia against military intervention. On Saturday, officials in Kiev reiterated their objections but, for the moment, seemed otherwise powerless. There was no immediate new comment from Washington, where officials seem to have very limited options in responding to Russian military intervention in Ukraine. –NY Times