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Russian armored vehicles move on Crimea base

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- AP journalists in Crimea have spotted a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers and a truck on a road between the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital, Sinferopol.

The Russian tricolor flags were painted on the vehicles, which were parked on the side of the road near the town of Bakhchisarai, apparently because one of them had mechanical problems.

Russia is supposed to notify Ukraine of any troop movements outside the naval base it maintains in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said movements of armored vehicles belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet were prompted by the need to ensure security of its base and didn't contradict the lease terms.

A duty officer at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it had no information about the vehicles' movements.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Ukraine accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" on Friday, saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports on its strategic Crimea peninsula. Russia kept silent on the accusations, as the crisis deepened between two of Europe's largest countries.

Any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine's conflict, which saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests. Yanukovych vowed Friday at a news conference in Russia to "keep fighting for the future of Ukraine," though he called any military action "unacceptable."

Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base, and Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away. Russia did not confirm its troops were involved in Friday's action in Crimea, which would be a major escalation.

In Kiev, Ukraine's parliament adopted a resolution demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis.

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Ukraine's newly named interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a Facebook post.

The chief of Ukraine's security council, Andriy Parubiy, seemed to strike a less strident tone later in the day, saying gunmen had tried to "seize" the airports in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol but insisting in comments to the Interfax news agency that "de-facto the airports are controlled by the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine."

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service also said about 30 Russian marines from Russia's Black Sea Fleet - which is based in Sevastopol - had taken up position outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard base in the area. It said the marines said they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.

Russia's defense ministry had no comment.

Yanukovych made his first public appearance since fleeing Ukraine in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border. It was the first confirmation that he had left the country, and he said he was "forced" to do so only after his family received threats.

"I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine," he said.

Yanukovych said he supports Crimea's residents who are worried about "nationalists" in Kiev and added that Russia cannot stand by while events in Ukraine unfold. He denied, however, that this amounts to a call for military intervention.

"Any military action in this situation is unacceptable," he said.

The prosecutor-general's office in Kiev said it would seek Yanukovych's extradition to Ukraine, where he is wanted on suspicion of mass murder in last week's violent clashes between protesters and police, during which over 80 people were killed.

Associated Press journalists approaching the Sevastopol airport found the road leading up to it blocked by two military trucks and a handful of gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles.

A car with Russian military plates was stopped at the roadblock. A man wearing a military uniform with a Russian flag on his sleeve got out of the car and was allowed to enter on foot after a brief discussion with the gunmen.

At the airport serving Simferopol, commercial flights were landing and taking off despite dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolling with assault rifles. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said the men were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine. There was no way to verify his account.

The airport deployments came a day after masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag. Ukrainian police cordoned off the area but didn't confront the gunmen. They remained in control of the buildings Friday.

The Russian foreign and defense ministries had no comment. Russia's state RIA Novosti and Interfax cited an unnamed official from the Russian Black Sea Fleet denying involvement, saying Russian servicemen stationed in Crimea have not moved into the airports and denying that the Russian military was in control there.

Tensions between the two countries were high, however. Russia continued with massive combat readiness exercises involving most of its troops in western and southern Russia that it said were unrelated to the Ukraine conflict. The moves were reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

The Kremlin, in a statement published late Thursday, said President Vladimir Putin had instructed the government to "maintain contacts with the counterparts in Kiev in what concerns trade and economic ties between Russia and Ukraine."

Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity. Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine, a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization, closer into Moscow's orbit.

Meanwhile, Swiss prosecutors announced they had launched a criminal investigation against Yanukovych and his son Aleksander over "aggravated money laundering." They said police and Geneva's chief prosecutor conducted a search and seized documents Thursday at the premises of a company owned by Aleksander Yanukovych.

Switzerland and Austria both said they would freeze any assets Yanukovych and his entourage might have in those countries.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support.

Crimea, a southeastern peninsula of Ukraine that has semi-autonomous status, was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, and was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In a bid to shore up Ukraine's fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund has said it is "ready to respond" to Ukraine's bid for financial assistance; Ukraine's finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.

The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

And Putin, in his statement, asked his government to "hold consultations with foreign partners including the IMF and the G8 nations to provide financial aid to Ukraine."

--

AP reporters Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Maria Danilova and Karl Ritter in Kiev and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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rjollierroger February 28 2014 at 9:03 AM

Remember when Russia invaded Georgia, (not talking about the Georgia N. of Fl.),? I don't remember anyone complaining that our then POTUS was weak and Russia did not fear him. I know of a lot of former terrorist who would beg to differ with you about this POTUS, if they could.

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astronauty February 28 2014 at 9:56 AM

Although Moscow says it will not intervene by force, its rhetoric since the removal of its ally Yanukovich has echoed the run-up to its invasion of Georgia in 2008, when it sent its troops to protect two self-declared independent regions and then recognized them as independent states.

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leonardelpaso7 February 28 2014 at 9:56 AM

So, again you think cutting the United States Military is just peachy keen. Imagine these soldiers at your door steps! Can't happen...you say? America has vast natural resources. Without a strong military to protect our vital interests our country is up for "grabs". Support our miltary...or YOU may lose your most valuable possession: Your Freedom! Stop cutting our defense budget! Other countries have their eyes on what we have...don't like Russian soldiers? Other foreign soldiers at your door steps might make you happy? ...there are so many to choose from. Stop and think. Support our military! Fix well foreward or you might be singing a song to another country that you might NOT LIKE!

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1 reply
kvave leonardelpaso7 February 28 2014 at 10:08 AM

Well said. Along with supporting OUR SECOND AMENDMENT Rights. These arent in place so that we may enjoy the sport of shooting , although that is now part of it.

They were put here not only to make sure Govt never overstepped , but to back up our Defenses , lest we be invaded. Even China has not pushed it this far , because they realize , even if they overcame our Military , it would be a very long , house to house , bloody fight.

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jesuaphn February 28 2014 at 12:13 PM

Let Crimea become part of Russia and the rest of Ukraine continue being indepent.
...and to the ones peddling jobs on the internet for www.works12.com please get a real job loosers.

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Benji2264 February 28 2014 at 8:26 AM

EX PREMIER OF RUSSIA NIKITA K. SAID IT LOUD AND CLEAR AT A UN MEET YEARS AGO.... HE TOOK OFF HIS SHOE AND BANGED IT ON TOP OF THE DESK IN FRONT OF HIM DEMONSTRATING TO THE WORLD AND EXCLAIMING THE UNITED STATES WILL DESTROY ITSELF FROM WITHIN......WHERE IS GEORGE WASHINGTON WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HIM?????
THAT GUNMAN LOOKS MORE LIKE AN ASIAN/FEMALE DONT YOU THINK???

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automeris1 February 28 2014 at 8:27 AM

Enough problems in the Ukraine right now without Russia and the United States jumping into the fray and taking sides. What would we do if something silimar happened in Canada or Mexico. Would we put troops along our borders and then have Russia complain. LMAO

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1 reply
pro41willys automeris1 February 28 2014 at 8:35 AM

Wow....I supose that could have been the stance taken in WWII....and the English would have been squashed like piss ants by the Germans.....right? LMAO

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Jim February 28 2014 at 9:48 AM

President Putin could never understand why Premier Krushchev gave the Crimea to Ukraine. He wants it back. This is his chance. If you study the situation, you will note that what is happening in Crimea is hauntingly similar to the events in Georgia preceding the Russian invasion. President Putin is rebuilding the Soviet Empire. Not in Eastern Europe, but on the Black Sea with Georgia and Crimea, on the Mediterranean Sea with Syria, and in the Middle East. Iran, Iraq, Syria. The Petroleum rich Fertile Crescent. And who will stop him? No one.

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1 reply
Tom Jim February 28 2014 at 9:53 AM

Ukraine would be wise to give Crimea back to Russia. That way the percentage of Russians in Ukraine would decrease, and the pro-Western Ukrainians would be more likely to win elections.

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thosholzel February 28 2014 at 4:24 PM

Come-on, everyone. Is there the slightest smidgeon of doubt that the Russkis will take over at least the eastern half of the Ukraine? And that no one will be able to do anything about it--except, of course, "Send a message" and "hold those accountable"?

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1 reply
Bob Shelley thosholzel February 28 2014 at 6:43 PM

If our politicians have their way and can reduce our troop strength to under 500K troops we won't even be able to patrol our own borders let alone help South Korea, Israel, or any ally when they are invaded by hostile forces. Still... it is ALL the fault of the American people who sit on their collective asses and let this happen.

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BOB February 28 2014 at 8:31 AM

They are Russian special forces, no doubt about it.

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gserlin February 28 2014 at 9:56 AM

Is this how WW 3 began? I forget my history.

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1 reply
Tom gserlin February 28 2014 at 10:02 AM

This is how the Crimean War of the nineteenth century began. Thankfully the US did not get involved.

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