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Yatseniuk approved as Ukraine's new prime minister

Ukraine Protests

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Russia sent fighter jets to patrol the border with Ukraine, reportedly gave shelter to the country's fugitive president and stood by as pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of a strategic region, deepening the crisis for Ukraine's new 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. Some 150,000 Russian soldiers carried out military exercises and fighter jets patrolled 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.

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, 90 fighter jets were put on combat alert and were patrolling the border with Ukraine, Russian news agencies quoted the Defense Ministry as saying.

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."

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.

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robtral61 February 27 2014 at 7:44 AM

The Obama administration wants to loan Ukraine $1 billion ( As if they are going to pay us back ) while making major cuts to our Military Budget...

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1 reply
edennism26 robtral61 February 27 2014 at 8:10 AM

Obama is the biggest joke of all. Rather than building America, he is intent on rebuilding Afghanistan and Pakistan--two contries whose people want us dead and whose leaders fill their graft laden pockets with our hard earned tax dollars. Our soldiers are coming home in body bags and he could care less.

Something is terribly wrong with this administration's priorities and nothing will change until Obama is impeached for actions detrimental to the U.S.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
pjgblg February 27 2014 at 8:08 AM

Welcome back Russian Communists. Where's the next Iron Curtain going to be? One of Putin's "war games"???

Flag Reply +3 rate up
cmr256 February 27 2014 at 8:32 AM

In my opinion, the former? Ukranian president currently residing outside Moscow has taken off
with the people's money. Also another opinion - Putin probably got a cut of it. It's also probably
all in a Swiss bank.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
bgzcle February 27 2014 at 8:03 AM

Clearly supported and funded by the Fascist Leader PUTIN

Flag Reply +1 rate up
xlntartist February 27 2014 at 7:52 AM

Beware of thugs who talk freedom and want opression. This goes for the so called "freedom fighters" who want anything but.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Dirk Smith February 27 2014 at 8:41 AM

Give the Putinistas their Crimea. Who cares. It was simply a gift from the monster Stalin 60 years ago. You still have a presence on the Black Sea.
Move forward Ukraine.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
golfet33 February 27 2014 at 7:53 AM

This was not a well organized operation but just the result of a spontanous demonstration

Flag Reply +4 rate up
kvave February 27 2014 at 8:01 AM

Down with Russia. Down with the rebuilding of the Soviet Empire. Support the Rebels with Goods ... and stand behind the People with full measure.

Show that KGB Putin , he cant just go around snatching Countries , like he tried in Georgia.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
olehippi February 27 2014 at 7:59 AM

Obviously, Vladimir Putin is behind this military-style action. It is being done to give Russia an excuse to send troops into Crimea and perhaps the rest of the Ukraine. Just part of rebuilding the old Soviet Union.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
oldcat February 27 2014 at 8:46 AM

Whether the best deal for the Ukraine is the West or Russia I do not know but what I do know is that America needs to keep its nose out of it and stop trying to police every conflict in the world.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
david77james oldcat February 27 2014 at 8:56 AM

Too late for that, unfortunately. We are the king of the world, that is, until we collapse from over extension of our military, which is now on the ground in more than 153 countries out of about 200 in the world.

Just think, you and I contribute to this with our tax money and our depreciating dollar that buys less and less every year, because they're printing our money into extinction.

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