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September 18, 2014
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Ukraine mobilises after Russia's 'declaration of war'

Armed men in military fatigues block access to a Ukrainian border guards base not far from the village of Perevalne near Simferopol on March 2, 2014. (AFP)

Ukraine mobilised for war, after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade, creating the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

"This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country," said Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovich fled last week.

Putin obtained permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine, spurning Western pleas not intervene.

Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea - an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. They surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, although no shots were fired.

Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed. However, pro-Russian demonstrators have marched in the east of the country and have raised Russian flags over government buildings in several cities, in what Kiev says is a move orchestrated by Moscow to justify a wider invasion.

Ukraine's security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert, the council's secretary Andriy Parubiy announced.

The Defence Ministry was ordered to conduct a call-up of reserves - theoretically all men up to 40 in a country with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.

"If President Putin wants to be the president who started the war between two neighbouring and friendly countries, between Ukraine and Russia, so: he has reached this target within a few inches. We are on the brink of disaster," Yatseniuk said in televised remarks in English, appealing for Western support.

THREAT TO EASTERN UKRAINE

At Kiev's Independence Square, where anti-Yanukovich protesters had camped out for months, thousands demonstrated against Russian military action. Speakers delivered rousing orations and placards read: "Putin, hands off Ukraine!"

Oleh, an advertising executive cooking over a big open fire at the square where he has been camped for three months, said: "If there is a need to protect the nation, we will go and defend the nation.... If Putin wants to take Ukraine for himself, he will fail. We want to live freely and we will live freely."

Of potentially even greater concern than Russia's seizure of majority ethnic Russian Crimea are eastern swathes of the country, where most ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian as a native language.

Those areas saw more demonstrations after violent protests on Saturday, and for a second day pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags at government buildings and called for Russia to defend them. Kiev said Russia had sent hundreds of its citizens across the border to stage the protests.

Putin's declaration that he has the right to invade his neighbour - for which he quickly received the unanimous approval of his senate - brought the prospect of war to a country of 46 million people on the ramparts of central Europe.

"President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law," the White House said after the leaders spoke for 90 minutes on Saturday.

Ukraine has appealed for help to NATO, and directly to Britain and the United States, as co-signatories with Moscow to a 1994 accord guaranteeing Ukraine's security after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

NATO ambassadors met in Brussels to discuss their next steps. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Russia of threatening peace and security in Europe.

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Tags:  World  Ukraine  Russia  Crimea  





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