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Russia reportedly sheltering Ukraine's president

Former Ukraine Leader Asks For Russian Protection

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia scrambled fighter jets to patrol its border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president as pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of Ukraine's strategic region, deepening the crisis for the new Ukrainian government even as it was being formed.

The moves pose an immediate challenge to Ukraine's new authorities as they seek to set up an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Ukraine's new prime minister said the country's future lies in the European Union but with friendly relations with Russia. Moscow, meanwhile, has launched a massive military exercise involving 150,000 troops and put fighter jets on patrol along the border.

A respected Russian news organization reported that President Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven out of Kiev by a three-month protest movement, was staying in a Kremlin sanatorium just outside Moscow.

"I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists," Yanukovych said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies on Thursday. He said he still considers himself president and sees the new Ukrainian authorities as illegitimate.

Shortly after, the same three Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed Russian official saying that Yanukovych's request for protection "was satisfied on the territory of Russia."

Oleksandr Turchynov, who stepped in as acting president after Yanukovych's flight, condemned the takeover of government buildings in Crimea as a "crime against the government of Ukraine." He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea "will be considered a military aggression."

"Unidentified people with automatic weapons, explosives and grenades have taken over the governmental buildings and the Parliament building in the autonomous region of Crimea," he said. "I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings."

In Kiev, lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Shortly before the lawmakers chose him as the leader of the new Cabinet, Yatsenyuk said Ukraine doesn't want a fight with Russia, but insisted the country wouldn't accept the secession of the southern Crimea region.

He said Crimea "has been and will be a part of Ukraine."

Yanukovych fled after riot police attacked protesters in Kiev's central square, killing more than 80 people, and European and Russian officials intervened. He has not been seen publicly since Saturday, when he said he remained the legitimately elected president - a position that has been backed by Russia.

Russia's respected RBK news organization reported Wednesday evening that Yanukovych was staying at the Barvikha sanatorium, which is run by the presidential administration's property department. The spokesman for this department, Viktor Khrekov, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has no information about this.

The RBK report was impossible to confirm, but security at the Ukraina Hotel was unusually heavy late Wednesday, with police watching from parked vehicles outside and guards posted throughout the lobby. Some of Yanukovych's allies, also reported to have been at the hotel, may have still been there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman also said he had no information about Yanukovych's reported arrival in Moscow.

In a clear warning to Ukraine, Putin on Wednesday ordered massive military exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia. On Thursday, as part of the exercises, fighter jets were put on combat alert and were patrolling the border, Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement. It didn't specify the areas where patrol missions were being conducted. The military also announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean peninsula in southeastern Ukraine.

The military maneuvers prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."

The Russian Foreign Ministry voiced concern Thursday about the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and vowed to protect their interests. State-owned ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a statement read at a session of the ministry's board on Thursday, saying that Russia "will have a firm and uncompromising response to violations of the rights of compatriots by foreign states."

Russia has accused Ukraine's interim leaders of failing to control radicals who threaten the Russia-speaking population in Ukraine's east and south, which includes the Crimean Peninsula.

Witnesses said the gunmen in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, wore unmarked camouflage uniforms and carried rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and other weapons. They raised the Russian flag over the local parliament building.

The men did not immediately voice any demands and threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist's questions. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II, and put up a sign reading "Crimea is Russia."

Maxim, a pro-Russian activist who refused to give his last name, said he and other activists had camped overnight outside the local parliament in Simferopol when 50-60 heavily armed men wearing flak jackets and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sniper rifles took over the building.

"Our activists were sitting there all night calmly, building the barricades," he said. "At 5 o'clock unknown men turned up and went to the building. They got into the courtyard and put everyone on the ground.

"They were asking who we were. When we said we stand for the Russian language and Russia, they said: `Don't be afraid. We're with you.' Then they began to storm the building bringing down the doors," he said. "They didn't look like volunteers or amateurs; they were professionals. This was clearly a well-organized operation."

"Who are they?" he added. "Nobody knows."

A convoy of seven armored personnel carriers was seen on a road near the village of Ukromnoye, about 10 kilometers (some 6 miles) away from the city of Simferopol. In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that Russia was abiding by an agreement with Ukraine that sharply restricts troops movements, but acknowledged some unspecified troops movements, claiming they didn't violate the deal, the Interfax news agency reported.

In a statement, the local government said Crimean Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilyev had tried to negotiate with the gunmen but was told "they were not authorized to negotiate and present demands."

Ukraine's acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on his Facebook page that police were sealing off the area.

"Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the center of the city," he said.

Phone calls to the Crimean legislature rang unanswered, and its website was down.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, dropped further to a new record low of 11.25 to the U.S. dollar, a sign of the country's financial distress.

One of the new government's first tasks will be to seek rescue loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The finance ministry has pegged the country's needs at $35 billion dollars for this year and next to pay salaries and debts and cover the large budget deficit.

Join the discussion

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dackohersh February 27 2014 at 7:57 PM

how many stolen billions will it cost Viktor Yanukovych to get Putin's protection? and who is paying for the "gunboat" diplomacy?

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chuckbuchner February 27 2014 at 1:32 PM

Those protesting in the Ukraine have no legal alternative other than to wait until the term of the democratically elected presidents term has ended and then again go to the polls. This type of takeover by way of popular uprising by the party out of power is becoming habit forming. The people of Egypt had their democratically elected president arrested and jailed and shortly thereafter Egypt ended up back under the rule of the military. Democracy comes with a price, that is why it goes by the term "Democracy." The people must learn to ton be tolerant and understand that their side may not always come out on top when elections are held.

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1 reply
savannahswithgod chuckbuchner February 27 2014 at 1:43 PM

Democracy may come but it can't last if you do not have a good secure force to keep it as a democracy.

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asanjeevan01 February 27 2014 at 1:37 PM

YeP he is hidong on my garage..

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shipraisa February 27 2014 at 1:41 PM

By leaving the country to seek asylum in Russia Yanukovich has abdicated . and the elected members of parlament have also fired him as such. if he is to be considered as legitamate let him return to the capitol.

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Steven February 27 2014 at 1:42 PM

I often wondered as a child why people always fought other people and I realized it wasn't people fighting it was governments fighting to secure their own existence. Even Democratic governments must protect themselves from the will of the people because a true government for the people and by the people would not have laws protecting it from protest and civil unrest. Civil unrest is caused by a governments inability to govern. Whether king, president or prime minister if all that you do isn't working then your citizens have the right to request change. The other problem is that the CIA's of the world should not be ingaged in tactics designed to create hostilities against a government unless it is corrupt or hostile to it's own citizens.

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1 reply
celia Steven February 27 2014 at 2:11 PM

A clear light shining in the dark but take care, governments of all persuasions can't have individuals having such clear thinking!

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rawhideken February 27 2014 at 1:47 PM

Harry Reed need to go to the rest home he has lost it totaly. how can people vote for these kind of duffess ???????????????????????

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3 replies
dlcox56 February 27 2014 at 8:10 PM

I would be surprised if he wasn't in Russia...

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mremdws February 27 2014 at 2:02 PM

Welllllll we should vote republican, cut our military spending, curtail veterans benefits, cut unemployment insurance, and in general, make it so much more difficult to earn a living that the teenagers will have to try to get into the military, and the republicans including Marco Rubio and Rand Paul both of whom were never in the service, can say wellll... there you are, gays in the military and we need to get them killed off! Vote Republican! Yea!! Remember folks we are at war right now, but if we can get the kids in the Marines...Wellll, there is no more terrifying warrior than a pissed off 19 year old Marine.

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1 reply
ufomike mremdws February 27 2014 at 3:35 PM

What the hell is that all about?

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ima.nemisis February 27 2014 at 2:04 PM

Look, both Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Egypt's Mohammed Morsi were democratically elected. That's the democratic process. Those who don't like it should vote w/ their feet and leave. Protesting over whether (or not) to associate the European Union or whether (or not) Egypt becomes (more or less) religious is a matter for the voters to sort out, through their elected representatives. The biggest problem with both countries is that neither have a constitution which balances Parliament w/ the Executive w/ the Judiciary and guarantees the right of freedom of (or from) religion, speech, assembly and peaceful protest. respects First, they must protect ALL religions Protesters are, by definition, a minority. They must also be peaceful. Those protesting governments need to work as hard for more powerful Parliaments to represent the voters, and provide a balance to the Executive and Judicial branches of government and more democratic representation, not less.


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2 replies
Ron ima.nemisis February 27 2014 at 2:42 PM

They were BOTH democratically elected and then commenced giving themselves more and more power as dictators. That's the reason they are both "out". The people NEVER voted to have a dictatorship.

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ramonbatt ima.nemisis February 27 2014 at 2:47 PM

Hahhh? FYI Ukraine president sold all interest to Russia. Russia president now is in control of the future of Ukraine. While Ukraine supporters die fighting for freedom. Freedom is not what United States stands for anymore. We support religion and power. Freedom is a thing of the PASST. Have you see support in United States for Ukraine? I have not. Obama is busy BLAHHH,,BLAHHH,, BLAHHH. About nothing. HP CENSERS MY COMMENTS WHEN I SPEAK NEGATIVE OF THEIR HERO!

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shorebare February 27 2014 at 2:11 PM

In the years of the USSR, Russians were sent to all the regions to settle. This is why Ukraine is about 17% ethnically Russian. When Britain granted Independence to the new nations of East and West Pakistan and Indian, milions and millions picked up and moved. This was based more on relgious beliefs (hinduism and islam). Ukraine needs to go sit down with its russian people and offer them the opportunity to work together in a bilingual Ukraine similar to Canada or to invite them to return to Mother Russia since they are so fond of her and she is so close as well. Crimea can be handed to the Russians when Chechnya is handed to its people. lol

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